State Sen. Chris McDaniel signs qualifying paperwork after announcing that he is running for lieutenant governor at the Mississippi Republican Party Headquarters in Jackson, Miss., January 30, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

After six campaign finance filings — including amended, amended-amended, termination-amended, and even one the-computer-temporarily-ate-it reports — it’s still unclear exactly how much money longtime state Sen. Chris McDaniel has raised or now has for his lieutenant governor campaign.

McDaniel’s reports for his campaign and a PAC he created last year have been confusing and confounding, at times leaving voters in the dark on the sources of hundreds of thousands of dollars and continuing to contain double-reported donations and amounts and dates that don’t add up.

His opponent, incumbent Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, claims McDaniel has violated state campaign finance reporting laws and has a complaint pending with the attorney general’s office. But Mississippi’s campaign finance laws are seldom enforced.

Hosemann’s camp claims McDaniel since his first report in January has been trying to pad his numbers and make it appear he has raised far more than he has. McDaniel, who has served 16 years in the state Legislature, has provided little explanation, but last week claimed vindication after Secretary of State Michael Watson said a computer glitch appeared to cause part of McDaniel’s latest filing not to post last week.

But his latest filing continues to double-report donations, count legally questionable money McDaniel says he has returned in its bottom line, is filed for a campaign committee Watson says hasn’t been legally registered with the state, and generally defies an accurate public accounting of his finances.

Here are some highlights of McDaniel’s filings to date for his campaign, and his Hold the Line PAC:

Amended-amended report

In McDaniel’s first finance report for Hold the Line, it showed a cash balance for the end of 2021 of $473,962, with no accounting of where the money came from as required by law. But McDaniel didn’t register the PAC as required by law with the state until summer of 2022.

After questions from Mississippi Today on how a PAC raised hundreds of thousands before it was created, McDaniel said the PAC made a “clerical error” and filed an amended report. But the amended report still showed an unexplained cash balance for 2021 of $236,981, as did a third “amended-amended” report the PAC filed later the same day.

Over the limit?

After initially failing to disclose the full amount, McDaniel’s Hold the Line PAC eventually reported it had received $475,000 from a Virginia dark-money nonprofit corporation, then funneled $465,000 of the money to McDaniel’s campaign. But Mississippi law prohibits corporations from donating more than $1,000 a year to a candidate or PAC.

READ MORE: Hundreds of thousands of dollars unaccounted, questionable in McDaniel’s campaign report

Returning questionable donations

McDaniel in April said his campaign returned $465,000 to his PAC, and that his PAC returned $460,000 to the dark-money nonprofit corporation and the PAC was being terminated. McDaniel hasn’t accounted for the remaining $15,000 he reported his PAC accepted from the American Exceptionalism Institute, Inc.

The American Exceptionalism Institute, Inc. is a dark money nonprofit that has contributed secretly sourced money to candidates in Nevada and Georgia, including former Sen. Kelly Loeffler and provided grants to various other groups across the country.

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

Double reporting

In his latest report last week for his campaign, McDaniel again listed the $465,000 donation from his PAC, despite having listed it as a donation in his report for calendar year 2022 — and despite having reported he returned the money.

In all, his campaign’s May report covering the period from January through April of 2023 included nearly $596,000 he had already listed in his report for calendar 2022. But oddly, he left some previous donations out of his double reporting. And he also included in this latest report over a dozen contributions totaling $9,800 he received in May, which are not supposed to be reported until the next report in June.

‘Termination-amended’ report

McDaniel shut down his Hold the Line PAC and filed a termination report on March 29. But on April 17, he filed a “termination-amended” report that showed it had given his campaign another $4,900.

Odd timing

Oddly, in some of his filings, McDaniel’s PAC reported it returned $460,000 to the American Exceptionalism Institute on the same day it received the second of two donations of $237,500 from AEI, in February. But McDaniel’s campaign had reported it received a total of $465,000 from his PAC in January, before the PAC would have had that much money — primarily coming from AEI — per his own reports.

The ‘Committee to Elect’

McDaniel has for years, including his first report as a lieutenant governor candidate, filed his state reports as a candidate, under his name. But last week, he filed a report for “The Committee to Elect Chris McDaniel.” But Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office as of Monday said, “At this time, we have not received a statement of organization from the Committee to Elect Chris McDaniel nor do our records indicate one was filed electronically …”

A spokeswoman for McDaniel after this article initially published in a statement told WLBT that a statement of organization for the committee was filed more than a decade ago and implied it disappeared because of political skulduggery.

“Senator McDaniel filed the statement of organization for his campaign committee when he first sought legislative office nearly 17 years ago,” Tardif said in a statement to WLBT. “Considering the recent debunked falsities lodged at the campaign from bureaucrats in Jackson, it’s of no surprise this long-standing document has somehow disappeared. It’s sad to see sitting policymaker, Delbert ‘the Democrat’ rely on political gamesmanship to avoid talking about the values and issues Mississippians hold dear.”

In a press release the True Conservatives Mississippi PAC, an anti-McDaniel PAC run by Republican operatives Josh Gregory and Quinton Dickerson, claims McDaniel violated state law by not registering the committee before taking donations. The release claims McDaniel could face hundreds of thousands in fines under state law “if the maximum of $5,000 per violation was enforced.”

Hosemann’s campaign has also questioned in its complaint to the AG the raffle of a gun by “Friends of Chris McDaniel,” which does not appear to be registered with the state as required.

The computer ate all but one page of report

Campaign finance reports for January-April were due Wednesday, May 10, and the secretary of state’s website posted them online. McDaniel’s posted report filed Tuesday, May 9, contained only a cover sheet, and no itemization of donations or spending as required. McDaniel and his campaign did not respond to questions sent Wednesday about this. On Thursday, Watson’s office said: “This is the full filing of what was received from the Committee to Elect Chris McDaniel.”

The SOS campaign finance website crashed at some point on Thursday. On Friday, Secretary of State Watson, a former lawyer for McDaniel’s failed 2014 U.S. Senate campaign when he unsuccessfully sued over results, on Friday said after investigation a “system error” appeared to be the cause of McDaniel’s itemization not showing up.

On Monday, Watson’s office said, “At this time we are only aware of it affecting one report (McDaniel’s) in this manner,” but said there have been reports from others about difficulty filing online finance reports.

READ MORE: Hosemann holds fundraiser at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

McDaniel on social media claimed vindication over news reports about his campaign finances and in a statement to the Clarion Ledger his campaign spokeswoman said Hosemann is “trying his hardest to lie, cheat and steal his way to re-election … Now, can we get back to talking about the real issues?”

But McDaniel, who has long been a vocal champion of campaign finance transparency and reform, and his campaign have not addressed numerous questions remaining about his campaign money and claims he broke state laws.

Hosemann responded: “This newest filing is still a disaster and it is incomplete … This is either intentional misinformation to Mississippi voters or gross incompetence — and either one is problematic.”

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

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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.