State Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, during a Senate Corrections Committee meeting on Feb. 13, 2020, at the Capitol in Jackson. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

State Sen. Brice Wiggins, a candidate for Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District seat, used money from his state office campaign account to pay for congressional ads, which is prohibited by Federal Election Commission regulations.

When asked about the issue by Mississippi Today last week, Wiggins said he was unaware of it and would check. He later provided a written response saying, “We found on Dec. 3 that congressional ads for a few weeks were incorrectly charged to a credit card of the (state) Committee to Elect Brice Wiggins.”

“We corrected this Dec. 3, and the $1,170.07 cost is being reimbursed to the state campaign along with a $10 reimbursement for a Facebook post I made myself on Nov. 2,” Wiggins wrote. “An amendment to the FEC filing is being made.”

Wiggins also wrote: “My intent is to always be transparent.”

But while Wiggins’ annual state campaign finance report covering 2021 shows Facebook ad expenditures that would appear to be for his congressional campaign, the report does not show any reimbursement to the state campaign.

Wiggins announced his run for Congress on Oct. 25, and changed his Facebook page name from “Senator Brice Wiggins” to “Brice Wiggins for Congress.” This would also appear to be at odds with FEC regulations.

FEC regulations prohibit transfer of “assets,” from a state campaign to a federal one. FEC regulations state: “Transfers of funds or assets from a candidate’s campaign committee or account for a nonfederal election to his or her principal campaign committee or other authorized committee for a federal election are prohibited.” An FEC spokesman said the agency hasn’t issued an opinion addressing transfer of social media accounts, but has addressed donor and other lists generated by a state campaign. Generally, the federal campaign would have to pay “fair market value” to the state campaign for such lists as they are assets and “any transfer for less than fair market value would violate the rule.”

Wiggins’ state campaign finance report shows donations and fundraising expenditures dated after his congressional campaign announcement.

Wiggins wrote: “As to contributions made to the state Senate account after October 25th, they were made by the individuals and companies listed on the filings. As seen on previous years’ filings by the (state) Committee to Elect Brice Wiggins, donations and expenses occur throughout the year.”

Wiggins confirmed the name change for the Facebook page, but then declined to answer any further questions on campaign finance issues, saying, “You have our statement. That’s it.”

While violations of FEC regulations and laws can carry penalties and fines, the agency typically exercises little enforcement unless infractions are major and allows campaigns to correct the problems.

Campaign finances have already been a big issue in the 4th District race. Longtime incumbent Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee over allegations of campaign fund misspending and other issues.

A congressional watchdog agency’s report, which prompted the House Ethics investigation, claims Palazzo misspent campaign and congressional funds, used his office to help his brother and used staff for personal errands and services.

Allegations have previously been reported that Palazzo used campaign funds to pay himself and his erstwhile wife nearly $200,000 through companies they own — including thousands to cover the mortgage, maintenance and upgrades to a riverfront home Palazzo owned and wanted to sell. A Mississippi Today report also questioned thousands in Palazzo campaign spending on swanky restaurants, sporting events, resort hotels, golfing and gifts.

READ MORE: Rep. Steven Palazzo ethics investigation: Is the congressman’s campaign account a slush fund?

The watchdog report said it found evidence Palazzo used his official office and resources to help his brother’s efforts to re-enlist in the Navy and questioned Palazzo’s campaign paying his brother nearly $24,000 over 10 months as a “political coordinator” and letting Kyle Palazzo use the campaign’s credit card for food, gas, hotel rooms and other goods and services.

When Wiggins announced his run for Congress, he took aim Palazzo over the campaign spending allegations.

“We should all be angry that our own member of Congress is under investigation for misappropriating funds as well as using his position to provide unethical and immoral favors to family and friends,” Wiggins said on his campaign website at the time.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.