Gov. Tate Reeves speaks during Mississippi Economic Council's 2023 Hobnob at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Gov. Tate Reeves’ campaign says a cease-and-desist letter from a solar energy company had nothing to do with changes made to a campaign advertisement that accused Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley and the company of violating state law.

Two commercials, which have run on TV stations across the state and online, accuse Presley, a current Mississippi public service commissioner, of violating state law by taking campaign contributions from Silicon Ranch and other solar energy companies that generate electricity to sell to public utilities.

Earlier this month, Silicon Ranch, through Jackson attorney Will Manuel, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Reeves campaign, arguing the company is not a public utility and has not violated any state law by donating to the Presley campaign.

READ MORE: Solar energy company threatens to sue Tate Reeves campaign for airing ‘defamatory’ TV ad

After the letter was sent and reported by Mississippi Today and others, the Reeves campaign began running a slightly different commercial. The new ad still says Presley violated state law by taking donations from “green energy companies he regulates,” but the ad no longer uses the names of the Silicon Ranch officials who made the contributions or a prominent photo of a solar energy executive.

The Reeves campaign said on Wednesday it did not change the ad because of the cease-and-desist letter and the possibility of being sued.

“We stand by everything in the first ad,” a Reeves campaign spokesman said in a statement. “It was because the first ad had already been seen throughout the state. The second ad had been finalized before their letter. The story is about Brandon Presley’s obvious corruption, and the individual companies that he worked over are side characters. In the past, it was corrupt public service commissioners like Brandon Presley who were arrested — and the companies are not on the ballot.”

Both versions of the ad are still on the Reeves campaign’s YouTube page.

State law does prohibit public service commissioners from taking campaign donations from public utilities and their representatives.

Silicon Ranch has developed facilities in Mississippi to produce and sell electricity to public utilities. Public utilities are defined in state law and in general as entities that provide electricity for the public.

But the Silicon Ranch cease-and-desist letter to the Reeves campaign cited a 2017 Public Service Commission order approving Mississippi Power’s plan to purchase electricity generated in Lauderdale County from Silicon Ranch.

That PSC order states that “petitioner Silicon Ranch is not a public utility and the project is not utility property under the laws of the state of Mississippi. It is further ordered that petitioner Silicon Ranch is not subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction except for the requirement of obtaining a certificate of public convenience and necessity.”

READ MOREThe full cease-and-desist letter the Reeves campaign received

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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.