Five Mississippi Today journalists worked for more than three months on an investigation into state contracts and grants awarded by agencies overseen by Gov. Tate Reeves that flowed to his top campaign donors.
Mississippi Today identified $1.4 billion in state contracts or grants that were awarded to 15 Reeves donors or companies that had contributed $50,000 or more to Reeves’ campaigns.
Our work involved thorough inspection of multiple state-managed databases, and it also required us building a new database from scratch.
The first thing readers should note about our investigation is that we took merely a snapshot of contracts awarded to Reeves’ donors. We drastically narrowed the scope of our investigation because of the state’s campaign finance reporting shortcomings and lack of searchable and reliable data.
The second thing to keep in mind: We did the best we could with disorganized and inconsistent data submitted by both the Reeves campaigns and by state agencies that are required to report and log state contracts in a database.
Mississippi’s campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws and reporting requirements are notably weak, and contained in a piece-meal patchwork of confusing — and some conflicting — laws passed over many years. Unlike all neighboring states, Mississippi’s campaign finance reports are not electronically searchable. They are PDF files, and some politicians still submit hand-written reports. One in recent years even submitted hers in calligraphy.
To report this story, we first needed a clear accounting of Reeves’ campaign donors. Reeves, first elected to statewide office as state treasurer in 2003, is one of the state’s most prolific political fundraisers in history. But like many other Mississippi politicians, Reeves has for years filed his campaign finance reports in unsearchable PDFs, and he’s listed thousands of pages of donors in no discernible order.
Mississippi Today’s Julia James, after combing through and organizing thousands of pages of campaign finance documents, built the first complete database of Reeves’ political donations from when he first ran in 2003 to present.
READ MORE: See who has donated to Tate Reeves
In total, we found that Reeves has received $31 million in campaign contributions from 6,441 people since 2003. Again, these numbers could be slightly “off” because of the Reeves campaigns’ finance reporting over the years, but we pulled every data point directly from Reeves’ filed reports.
We chose to narrow down the list of the Reeves donors for this project to those who had given the governor’s campaigns $50,000 and more. That gave us a new list of 88 donors, including individuals, company PACs, and LLCs. We did not search for state contracts from leaders of several association PACs that gave Reeves at least $50,000. These PAC officers or their own affiliated companies may have received state contracts, but a direct connection between donations and contracts would be less clear — one reason donations are sometimes run through PACs.
Next, we took that smaller list of donors and searched for their affiliated businesses. We searched their names in the Mississippi Secretary of State’s existing businesses database, making note of the many companies, in some cases, each donor owned or managed. Many of Reeves’ top donors did not appear to receive contracts with executive state agencies or economic development grants, though it’s always possible we missed some.
Once we had the donors’ affiliated company names, we searched those companies in Mississippi’s state contract database called Transparency Mississippi. Despite its name, the Transparency database is not always a reliable tool. State agency employees are supposed to enter state contracts in the Transparency database, but there is little consistency and some agencies do not comply with the rules or file complete information.
In order to stay consistent with the state contracts we found, we pulled only “awarded contract total” amounts from the Transparency database page. In many cases, just because a contract was awarded doesn’t mean the entire awarded contract total was received by the contract vendor. But the inconsistency of state agency reporting on the Transparency database makes it nearly impossible to tell which awarded contracts were fully spent, and which awarded contracts were only partially spent. For that reason, we counted only the awarded contract amounts listed directly in the state’s Transparency database.
Staying within those parameters, our reporting brought us to $1,457,995,935.00 in state contracts that top Reeves donors had received since he took office as governor in 2020.