Secretary of State Michael Watson calls for campaign finance reform, less business regulation – Mississippi Today

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Secretary of State Michael Watson on Wednesday outlined his legislative agenda, continuing his call for campaign finance reform, voicing support for reinstated ballot initiative rights and vowing to be “a wrecking ball” for business regulations.
Watson also confirmed that his office received the email bomb threat that closed the Capitol for a few hours Wednesday morning, although he deferred further questions to law enforcement.
During last year’s statewide elections, Watson’s office flagged several potential campaign finance violations and fielded numerous complaints as millions of dollars of dark money flowed into Mississippi races amid what appeared to be flagrant disregard for the law. The election cycle showed again that Mississippi has weak campaign finance laws and nearly nonexistent enforcement. Watson said at the time his office has no enforcement authority over violations.
“We sent 10, 11, 12 campaign issues, some of which we felt were fraud, to the attorney general’s office, and we saw no enforcement of that,” Watson said.
Watson said he is pushing for his office to have authority to issue fines for campaign finance violations and a revamping of laws.
He said he also is pushing lawmakers to approve – and pay for — a new campaign finance reporting system, so voters can easily view and search campaign donations to candidates as is the case in most other states. Watson has previously estimated such a digital system would cost $2 million to $3 million.
READ MORE: Chris McDaniel, Lynn Fitch and the case of the missing $15,000
Watson also said he wants to end the “grandfathering” in state law of candidates being able to spend money from pre-2018 campaign accounts on personal expenses. Reforms passed in 2017 allowed candidates to keep the old accounts provided they didn’t accept new donations and kept them separate from new accounts, from which personal spending is prohibited. Watson said about 40 politicians still have such legacy accounts totaling about $5 million. He said Gov. Tate Reeves’ is most notable, containing about $1.9 million, and is drawing thousands of dollars in interest each year.
“I’m not trying to point fingers at anybody with this,” Watson said, “… but I think it’s just wrong.”
Watson said he also wants lawmakers to change law to prohibit political action committees from donating to each other as a way to obfuscate the source of donations to politicians.
“I want to eliminate PAC to PAC contributions,” Watson said.
Watson said he also wants lawmakers to restructure the Occupational Licensure Review Board on which he serves with the governor and attorney general. Watson proposes adding several other state officials, but removing the attorney general because that office also legally represents the boards and commissions the OLRC is monitoring.
The OLRC was created by lawmakers in recent years as a way to rein in the many agencies, boards and commissions that regulate and license many businesses in Mississippi. The Magnolia State ranks high nationwide in the number of occupations that require special licensure, and many GOP leaders including Watson have called for less regulation.
Watson said Wednesday he plans to be “a wrecking ball” for such boards and commissions and red tape.
Watson also said he supports lawmakers reinstating voters’ right to ballot initiative — to take matters in hand and sidestep lawmakers with a statewide vote.
“We govern by the consent of those who are governed,” Watson said.
Watson said he is not proposing any major changes to the state’s voting system, such as expanded early voting.
“No, but there are more conversations every day about such issues,” Watson said. “As far as I’m aware we have a really good system here in Mississippi.”
PODCAST: Secretary of State Michael Watson pitches campaign finance reform
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by Geoff Pender, Mississippi Today
January 3, 2024
This <a target=”_blank” href=””>article</a> first appeared on <a target=”_blank” href=””>Mississippi Today</a> and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.<img src=”;ssl=1″ style=”width:1em;height:1em;margin-left:10px;”><img id=”republication-tracker-tool-source” src=”″ style=”width:1px;height:1px;”>
Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.
Mississippi Today is a part of the Deep South Today network of nonprofit newsrooms. We believe that an informed Mississippi is a better Mississippi. We center readers in everything we do, informing–and engaging–Mississippians through reporting, podcasts, events and online communities. Founded in 2016 as the state’s first nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom, Mississippi Today’s roots in Capitol coverage have grown to encompass a myriad of beats beyond politics and policy, including education, public health, justice, environment, equity, and, yes, sports. Learn More

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