Mississippi’s standards for ethics should be stronger. Over the past decade, much of the rest of the country has been increasing disclosure standards, while Mississippi has done nothing. We need a Governor who will change this. Mississippi’s elected officials should be held accountable for their actions. The legislature has tried to pass ethics reform in the past, but has been thwarted at every turn by Governor Barbour and his special interest friends. As Governor, John Eaves will make ethics legislation a priority. Below is the outline of his plan.
Shinning Light on the Ethics Commission
Members of the Ethics Commission will be required to recuse themselves from cases that involve the person whom appointed them to the commission. Nor can they rule in cases where they have any financial interest before them or personal connection to any of the parties involved.
All complaints filed to the commission are to be made public on the commission’s website within 72 hours of filing. Only the personal information of the person filing the complaint and specific details that the commission deems sensitive may be redacted from the document.
All hearings, votes, and opinions of the Ethics Commission must be made public and available electronically within 72 hours of occurrences.
The review process for a complaint will be changed. First the complaint is received and the staff determines if it meets the minimum threshold of having any potential basis in fact. Once it meets that threshold, the staff presents it to the commissioners for a vote to proceed. If the vote is in favor of proceeding or a tie, then it will go forward and the staff will investigate the merits of the complaint. The staff is authorized to compel testimony of anyone, including elected officials. After the investigation is complete, the staff will present their findings to the commissioners who will then vote on the matter.
Keeping it All Out of the Family
Nepotism is defined in other sections of the Mississippi Code as relatives to the third degree, but conflict of interest applies only to relatives defined by parents, children, and spouse. Conflict of interest laws should be strengthened to include the same definition of nepotism used elsewhere in Mississippi law.
Giving Teeth to Ethics
Failure to disclose economic interests- If a candidate failed to properly file his or her “Statement of Economic Interest” and did so in an attempt to hide his or her sources of income, that person shall be subject to no less than one and to no more than five years in prison and a fine equal to the salary the State would have paid the candidate over his or her term.
Illegal Campaign Funding- If a candidate is found guilty of illegally taking funds, that candidate will be forced to pay a fine equal to the amount of illegal funds received plus 50%. The candidate may use campaign funds only to pay the portion of the fine based on the amount of illegal funds, not the 50% additional fee.
Electronically Searchable Disclosures
Today candidates in Mississippi can rest assured that their disclosures will hide in obscurity because there is no way to quickly search them. Under the Eaves plan, all candidates for the legislature or statewide office must file their campaign finance disclosures in an electronically searchable way in a database to be maintained by the Secretary of State. In addition, all lobbyist disclosures and all spending by outside groups to influence an election must be filed electronically as well.
Fuller Financial Disclosure
Each year that a candidate is running for statewide office, or is an elected statewide official, he or she must disclosure their annual income and the amount of taxes they paid to the US Treasury. This requirement may be fulfilled by releasing the summary pages of the candidate or officials tax returns.
Haley vetoed the only reform that made it to his desk; he hasn't brought it up since.