State Sen. Chris McDaniel announces that he is running for lieutenant governor during a press conference at the Mississippi Republican Party Headquarters in Jackson, Miss., January 30, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Editor’s Note 5/12/23: The secretary of state’s office in a statement Friday said that it experienced an outage of its primary web server on Thursday, and that a system error on Tuesday appears to be the cause of only one page, without itemization, of lieutenant governor candidate Chris McDaniel’s latest campaign finance report being visible on its website prior to the outage.

McDaniel’s itemization of contributions and expenditures still make it difficult to determine how much money he has raised or has on hand. His previous report for 2022 fundraising included contributions from 2023 that are also included again in his latest report. In his latest report, McDaniel still includes as a contribution $465,000 in questionable contributions that his campaign reports he has returned.

McDaniel as of Friday had not responded to Mississippi Today’s request for comment on his filings.

Incumbent Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann on Friday issued an updated statement:

“This newest filing is still a disaster and it is incomplete. It clearly includes funds that had been previously reported, including $465,000 from a dark money PAC which McDaniel has been forced to return. The truth is, new contributions which had not previously been reported are a small percentage of what he claimed to raise. This is either intentional misinformation to Mississippi voters or gross incompetence—and either one is problematic.”

Mississippi Today has updated the headline of this article, and we will have further reporting on campaign finances in this race.

Original story from 5/11/23:

Once a vocal champion of campaign finance transparency and reform, lieutenant governor candidate Chris McDaniel has again filed an incomplete and incoherent report of the amounts and sources of funding for his campaign.

This comes after McDaniel’s campaign last month said he was returning legally questionable large donations from a Virginia dark-money nonprofit, and shutting down his PAC through which the donations flowed to his campaign.

Incumbent Republican Delbert Hosemann, who faces McDaniel in the Aug. 8 Republican primary, on Wednesday reported raising nearly $193,000 from January through April, and having $3.4 million cash on hand as the primary race enters the final stretch. His largest single donation was $25,000 from Barry Wax, owner of Wax Seed Co. in Amory and a longtime large contributor to Mississippi Republican campaigns.

McDaniel, a four-term state senator who has twice run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate, filed only a cover sheet for his campaign finance report, failing to itemize donations or spending over $200 as required by state law. His filing on Wednesday’s deadline was listed as the “Committee to Elect Chris McDaniel,” not under his name as his past reports have been filed, and McDaniel failed to register such a committee with the secretary of state’s office.

McDaniel and campaign staff did not respond to a request for comment about the filing.

Hosemann in a statement Thursday said: “At this point, there appear to be multiple campaign finance violations stemming from multiple committees. Standing for election integrity includes following campaign finance laws, which require basic reporting of contributions, expenditures, and cash on hand. We are asking for enforcement of these laws. If Chris McDaniel can’t get this simple paperwork done, he won’t be able to manage a $7 billion budget.”

READ MORE: Chris McDaniel returns questionable campaign donations, shuts down PAC. Hosemann complaint with AG pending

McDaniel’s campaign and PAC reports to date make it impossible to know for sure exactly how much money he has raised, has on hand or from whence it came. In his filing in January that was supposed to cover 2022 collections, he reported collections from this year. In the cover sheet totals he filed Wednesday, it would appear he is re-reporting money he already reported in January. Given this, it would appear his campaign raised about $87,000 this year through April. His cover sheet claims he has about $336,000 cash on hand.

McDaniel had also created the Hold the Line PAC. Its public filings and subsequent explanations and amended reports from McDaniel and others have been confounding. Hold the Line initially failed to list the source of hundreds of thousands of dollars it claimed to have collected, and its reports have had amounts and dates that don’t add up. For instance, Hold the Line reported having raised hundreds of thousands of dollars the year before McDaniel legally registered it with the secretary of state’s office, and failed to list the source of that money as required by law.

Mississippi Today first reported about issues with McDaniel’s PAC and campaign finance reports in early February. In mid-April, after Hosemann filed a complaint that the secretary of state’s office forwarded to the attorney general, McDaniel’s campaign said it was returning donations from the PAC, and the PAC in turn was returning donations to a dark-money nonprofit corporation that Hosemann’s camp claimed violated state law.

A spokeswoman for McDaniel’s campaign last month said McDaniel was confident he would prevail in court on any challenge to his finances, but was returning $460,000 to the American Exceptionalism Institute “to avoid a protracted legal fight with the establishment.”

READ MORE: Coming soon to screens near you: Mississippi election ad wars

Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s only response to date about Hosemann’s complaint has been, “We are reviewing it.” Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office cited its lack of investigative and prosecutorial authority when it forwarded Hosemann’s complaint to Fitch.

An intentional violation of Mississippi’s campaign disclosure law is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a $3,000 fine, six months imprisonment, or both. But in Mississippi campaign finance laws are seldom enforced, and alleged violations seldom investigated or prosecuted.

In response to questions from Mississippi Today on Wednesday, Watson’s office said McDaniel’s cover letter was all he filed for his report, and that, “We have not received a Statement of Organization from the Committee to Elect Chris McDaniel.” The statement said that candidates must file a statement of organization within 48 hours of receiving or spending $200. Failure to do so can eventually result in administrative penalties from the state Ethics Commission, which will eventually turn the case over to the AG’s office if a candidate continues to fail to file.

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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.