Incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s campaign far outraised his main opponent, longtime state Sen. Chris McDaniel in the home stretch before Tuesday’s primary.
Hosemann continued his call for an attorney general’s investigation into McDaniel’s campaign finances, and after news reports, filed a complaint questioning McDaniel’s residency and whether he has voted illegally. The lieutenant governor’s race is the most hotly contested statewide contest for the Aug. 8 party primaries, and the race has seen much mudslinging and negative campaigning in recent weeks.
“My opponent has been referred for criminal prosecution for his repeated illegal campaign finance reports,” Hosemann said in a statement. “Now, it appears doubtful that he lived in his district, which means he voted illegally. Voting is the cornerstone of our Constitution. I call upon the attorney general and the district attorney of Jones County to investigate this alleged illegal activity and determine before Aug. 8 whether the voters of Mississippi have been misled and its election laws violated.”
McDaniel did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Hosemann reported raising $302,000 for July, and having more than $2 million cash on hand at the end of the month. McDaniel reported raising $168,000 for the period and having $307,000 on hand.
Hosemann starting in March has filed complaints with the attorney general’s office claiming McDaniel and a now-shuttered PAC he created violated campaign finance laws numerous times. One major issue: McDaniel’s PAC received $475,000 from a secretive Virginia dark-money nonprofit corporation. The PAC then funneled $465,000 of it to his campaign.
State law limits such corporate donations to $1,000 a year to a candidate or PAC. So the donation was $474,000 over the legal limit.
McDaniel’s PAC initially hid some of these transactions with incomplete, inaccurate reporting to the secretary of state’s office. But eventually, after questions from Mississippi Today, he first chalked it up to “clerical errors.”
Then, eventually, McDaniel said Mississippi’s campaign finance laws are improper but he doesn’t have time to mount a legal challenge, so his campaign returned the money to his PAC. McDaniel said his PAC then returned the money to the dark money group, and he shut down the PAC.
But, by his own reporting, McDaniel’s defunct PAC did not return $15,000 of the over-state-limits money, and has offered no accounting for what happened to it.
This statewide election cycle has seen several claims of campaign finance law or reporting requirement violations in several races. It has also shown what appears to be a reluctance by Attorney General Lynn Fitch – the only statewide officer with clear authority to enforce campaign finance laws – to address or investigate complaints. This has prompted secretary of state candidates, including incumbent Michael Watson, to call for reform.
Mississippi’s campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws and reporting requirements are weak, and contained in a piecemealed patchwork of confusing – some conflicting – laws passed over many years. The secretary of state’s office and Ethics Commission have for years said they lack enforcement or investigative authority. Most often, campaign finance violations go unchecked, leaving the state political system open to the corrosive influence of special interest money.
Hosemann’s new claims about McDaniel’s residency stem from media reports that began with a social media post by a former reporter and a column by Greenwood Commonwealth editor Tim Kalich. Kalich reported that a former reporter now lives in McDaniel’s hometown of Ellisville. The former reporter, through observation and checking city water records, questioned whether McDaniel has in recent years really lived at the house he claims as his residence.
Kalich said McDaniel’s campaign responded that the house is still his family’s residence, but is infested with black mold and having to undergo renovations, forcing the family to sleep elsewhere temporarily. Kalich said the reporter has noticed no work going on at the house, and that water records show nearly no usage for years.
Other questions have recently been raised about a new state PAC that is running ads against Hosemann. Invest in Mississippi PAC was created by Wisconsin-based political consultant Thomas Datwyler, who McDaniel’s campaign has listed as its treasurer. The new PAC appears to have spent at least tens of thousands of dollars on ads in recent weeks. But as of Wednesday, the PAC had not filed a campaign finance report that was due Tuesday, according to Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office.
Datwyler, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, has a history of running afoul of Federal Election Commission campaign finance rules with several congressional candidates.
McDaniel as a state senator was once a vocal champion of stricter campaign finance laws and transparency for the public on sources of political money. But his PAC and campaign finance reports have defied logic and math, and after filing amended, amended-amended and termination-amended reports, it’s still unclear exactly how much money he has raised and from where it came. His PAC and campaign finances mark the largest secret and over the legal limit donation to a state campaign in Mississippi.