Tate Reeves filmed a campaign TV ad at New Summit School, a now-shuttered private school in Jackson that was at the center of a federal fraud scandal. Credit: Tate Reeves campaign ad

Gov. Tate Reeves has garnered $45,600 in interest earnings through May of this year from his main campaign account.

Those earnings presumably include interest accrued from the campaign donations he has received from Nancy New and her son Zach New, both of whom have pleaded guilty in state and federal court to profiting from public funds that were intended to provide services for poor Mississippians and schoolchildren with special educational needs.

Investigators allege the News and others were part of the misspending of $77 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Funds. Among other egregious charges, federal prosecutors alleged that Nancy New used at least $76,889 in public funds that were supposed to go to her now shuttered New Summit School to purchase a house.

Reeves and the News have a long-term relationship as the governor has been one of the state’s most ardent supporters of providing public funds to private schools, and the News over several years have given him numerous campaign contributions.

Granted, the less than $10,000 the governor received from the News played a minimal role in boosting his interest earnings. Overall, Reeves was able to garner the significant earnings because the account contains more than $7.4 million in campaign contributions. The News’ offering to Reeves was only a tiny fraction of the total.

But the campaign contributions from the News were significant enough for the governor to tell Mississippians in 2020, soon after the revelation of the misspending of the welfare funds became public, that he intended to divest himself of the donations from the News.

“I can tell you right now, anything they gave to the campaign is going to be moved to a separate bank account,” Reeves said in 2020. “Anything they gave the campaign will be there waiting to be returned to the taxpayers and help the people it was intended for. If that doesn’t happen, the money will go to a deserving charity.”

As of the last campaign finance report made public in early June, Reeves had not placed the money in a separate bank account and had not given it to charity.

The donations are still in his regular account, drawing interest earnings that are plowed back into his gubernatorial campaign this year, as he is seeking to win his sixth four-year term as a statewide elected official. Reeves will likely face Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley in this year’s general election.

Reeves and his staffers have been asked lately to explain why the money has not been placed in the separate bank account as he promised in 2020.

“It currently continues to be in the same account,” Reeves said in response to a WJTV reporter’s question a few weeks ago. “We have probably five or six different accounts situated through Friends of Tate Reeves as well as Tate for Governor, and those monies, $9,000 or somewhere in that range, will be refunded at the appropriate time.”

Reeves told members of the media that he was holding onto the News’ campaign donations until the conclusion of both federal and state investigations. Otherwise, Reeves’ defenders quickly rationalized that the courts could demand the money donated to Reeves by the News be paid back to the government, and that if the money were donated now to charity, that could place the charity in an uncomfortable situation.

Perhaps that is feasible. Perhaps the courts would determine that the money the News donated to Reeves was part of their ill-gotten gains instead of from their legitimate endeavors and should be returned to the state.

And maybe the courts would go to department stores or other retailers to recoup money the News spent there. It sure would create an interesting dynamic if the courts did try to recoup those funds from charities and retailers.

Of course, the possible conundrum could be resolved by simply placing the funds in a separate bank account as Reeves said he intended to do. The governor also could place the money in the state treasury and the Legislature could add a line item to the budget bill for the Department of Human Services giving the agency the authority to spend it where it was intended in the first place — to help Mississippi’s poor population.

And perhaps Reeves would want to ensure the state or charity receives not only those campaign funds, but also the interest he has earned on those funds.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.