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Mississippi Dems Not Reporting Campaign Spending, Could Face Ethics Penalties

Tyree Irving headshot
The Mississippi Democratic Party did not file a periodic campaign-finance report required under state law on June 9, 2023, despite spending funds on a campaign against incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on a Twitter account called “The Tate Files.” Mississippi Democratic Party Chair Tyree Irving, seen here, said in a May 17, 2023, statement that “Tate Files will hold Tate Reeves accountable.” The secretary of state’s office said the party could face fines and other penalties for failing to file campaign finance reports. Screencap courtesy WJTV

The Mississippi Democratic Party could face fines and other penalties after failing to file periodic campaign-finance reports required under state law, the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office says.

Mississippi Assistant Secretary of State for Elections Kyle Kirkpatrick told the Mississippi Free Press that he informed the party earlier this month that they must begin filing campaign-finance reports, but that he has not heard back from party officials. Unless the Democratic Party takes action by Friday, the secretary of state’s office will turn the issue over to the Mississippi Ethics Commission, he said.

In emails last month, Mississippi Democratic Party State Executive Director Andre Wagner told the secretary of state officials, including Kirkpatrick, that the party did not have to file campaign-finance reports because they had not engaged in spending that would necessitate reporting.

“Dear Secretary of State’s Office, This is to inform you that the Mississippi Democratic Party has not spent any funds promoting, opposing, or contributing to candidates in the 2023 cycle as of May 23, 2023,” Wagner wrote on that date. “This is in accordance with state regulations which require Party entities and PACs to file periodic campaign finance reports if they have made any contribution and/or expenditure for the purpose of influencing or attempting to influence the action of voters for or against any candidate regularly elected in 2023. If and when the party decides to spend money on either of these activities, it will start to file periodic campaign finance reports as required by law.”

Andre Wagner email

But Kirkpatrick told the Mississippi Free Press that the Democratic Party had already begun engaging in such activities before that email. In a press release the Mississippi Free Press and other news organizations received from Wagner six days before that email, the party announced that it was launching “The Tate Files.” The press release described the project as “a brand new Twitter account that will expose Tate Reeves’ self-serving corruption that harms Mississippi families.”

“Tate Files will expose how Tate Reeves’ failed record of self-serving corruption, including his involvement in the largest public corruption scandal in Mississippi history, harms Mississippi families,” Mississippi Democratic Party Chair Tyree Irving said in the May 17 press release. “As campaign season heats up, Tate Files will hold Tate Reeves accountable for the lies he employs to hide his real record of serving himself, his corporate buddies, and his lobbyist friends at the expense of working Mississippians.”

Reeves is up for reelection this year and is facing a challenge from Democrat Brandon Presley, a state public service commissioner.

The @TheTateFiles account launched on May 17 with a video accusing incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves of corruption and suggesting he played a role in the state’s $77 million welfare scandal. The video, which misleadingly cited a Mississippi Free Press report on the scandal to make its case, ended with the message, “OUR STATE DESERVES BETTER.” At the bottom in small print, the ad included a disclaimer: “PAID FOR BY THE MISSISSIPPI DEMOCRATIC PARTY.”

Kirkpatrick told the Mississippi Free Press that the secretary of state’s office was not aware of the May 17 press release, but did know about The Tate Files account. He said it constitutes the kind of campaign activity that necessitates filing periodic campaign reports under state law.

“Once we were aware of this, we did send them a good-faith letter about reporting for June 9. We have not received anything else from the Mississippi Democratic Party. If we don’t receive anything we’ll go through the normal process,” the assistant secretary of state said.

Our state deserves better
A May 17, 2023, video ad opposing Gov. Tate Reeves on @TheTateFiles Twitter account included a disclaimer noting that the Mississippi Democratic Party paid for it. @TheTateFiles / Twitter

Kirkpatrick said the party should have turned in a campaign-finance report by June 9 for the period covering May 1 to May 31. State law says that five days after a candidate, political committee or party fails to file a campaign-finance report, the secretary of state’s office must report the information to the Mississippi Ethics Commission.

With some exceptions for mitigating circumstances, after 10 days with no report, the Mississippi Ethics Commission “shall assess the delinquent candidate and political committee a civil penalty of Fifty Dollars ($50.00) for each day or part of any day until a valid report is delivered to the Secretary of State, up to a maximum of ten (10) days,” the law says. The Mississippi Ethics Commission can seek court orders compelling entities to file required campaign finance reports.

In addition to fines, candidates or committees can face even harsher penalties for refusing to comply with campaign finance laws, Kirkpatrick noted. “If there was a willful violation the (Mississippi) attorney general could prosecute,” he said.

Neither Chair Irving nor Executive Director Wagner, whose recent clash over funding from the national party spilled out into public view this week, have responded to repeated requests for interviews for this story.

The Mississippi Secretary of State’s website shows that the Mississippi Democratic Party last filed a report in January with its annual report covering Jan. 1, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2022. The filings show that the Mississippi Republican Party filed campaign-finance reports for the May and June periods.

Another campaign finance report will be due on July 10 for the June 1 through June 30 period.

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