Mississippi Politics

OpEd: Mississippi’s campaign finance enforcement: A hollow promise

Note: The following is an op-ed item submitted by Greta Kemp Martin, Democratic candidate for Mississippi Attorney General. Her Republican opponent in the November general election is incumbent Attorney General Lynn Fitch.

By: Greta Kemp Martin, Democratic Candidate for Attorney General

In the realm of politics, trust and transparency should be the foundation upon which democracy stands. However, Mississippians have been repeatedly let down by the very system designed to ensure fair and honest elections. Attorney General Lynn Fitch, the state’s top law enforcement officer and the sole authority entrusted with the enforcement of campaign finance laws, has fallen short of her duty during her time in office. The consequences of which undermine the very essence of our democracy.

Though the Secretary of State’s office and the Ethics Commission play a role in campaign finance in our state, Attorney General Fitch is the only state official vested with clear authority to investigate and prosecute campaign finance violations. Yet, her tenure has been marked by a disconcerting reluctance to fulfill this vital role.

Take, for instance, the case of longtime state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s failed run for lieutenant governor in this year’s primary. Record amounts of out-of-state, secretly-sourced campaign money were funneled into McDaniel’s campaign and related state PACs. Moreover, allegations of blatant violations of campaign finance laws and reporting requirements surfaced through multiple complaints filed by Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann’s campaign. Our Attorney General ignored these complaints until only days before the primary. Her office initiated an investigation into only one of the complaints.

These allegations and violations are seldom investigated, and the laws regulating campaign cash and reporting in Mississippi seem to be pushed to the side by state leaders. Meanwhile, state leaders such as Governor Tate Reeves and Attorney General Fitch rake in millions upon millions of dollars into their war chests while they are in office, leveraging their trusted positions to line their coffers ultimately putting any challenger – Republican or Democrat – miles behind before they can even qualify to run.

But more concerning to Mississippi voters is why has Attorney General Lynn Fitch hesitated to act on claims of widespread campaign finance violations at all. It does not take much to assume that Fitch may be reluctant to pursue complaints against McDaniel for fear of angering Mississippi conservatives – from my perspective, this seems to be a trend for General Fitch.

Fitch looks the other way while her friends and donors break the law and steal money from Mississippians, just as she has with the welfare scandal that her office has consistently ignored and still, to this day, has failed to investigate. But, Fitch’s office has faced repeated allegations, even from her fellow Republicans, of her failure to fulfill its responsibilities here in Mississippi while turning her attention outside of the state. This November, Mississippians have a chance to do what any employer would do when their employee fails to get the job done – fire Lynn Fitch.

This week, my campaign has rolled out our Roadmap to Restoring Public Integrity, and part of that includes campaign finance reform. While the Secretary of State can offer training and information to candidates, the Attorney General’s office should be implementing specialized training for investigators and legal staff, building a team that is well-equipped to perform timely investigations and address potential violations. The AG’s office should also be working with other election authorities, such as the Secretary of State’s office, to share information, coordinate efforts, and implement regular audit and compliance checks.

Mississippi’s campaign finance laws are already weak, with insufficient penalties for violations. It’s time to call on the Mississippi Legislature to enact stronger laws for campaign finance violations, including fines and potential criminal charges, which will serve as a deterrent to potential wrongdoers.

Mississippi’s campaign finance laws serve a purpose – to bring transparency to our political process and curb the corrupting influence of big money in politics. Will we ever find out the outcome of the investigation into Chris McDaniel’s campaign? Time may tell, but under Fitch, there has never been an Annual Report filed by the AG’s office sharing the results of investigations with the public. The Attorney General’s office must be transparent with the public when investigations are complete and violations are found, allowing citizens to play a role in holding candidates and campaigns accountable.

In the end, Mississippians deserve better. Our democracy thrives when it operates on a foundation of trust, accountability, and transparency, which I aim to do as outlined by my policy initiatives. The current Attorney General has failed to rise above political considerations and fulfill her duty to the people of Mississippi by turning a blind eye to campaign finance violations and a myriad of other harms to our state, which is one of the many reasons I am running to be your next Attorney General. Our democracy hangs in the balance, and we cannot afford to let it crumble under the weight of indifference. Mississippi can’t afford another four years of Lynn Fitch.

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