Clarion Ledger: Public Office, Private Gain

Elected officials use campaign funds for private gain

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State Sen. Dean Kirby leases a vehicle, pays for auto insurance and gasoline, and buys Braves season tickets with money from his campaign account.

He spends thousands a year on a campaign credit card, despite having no opponents for re-election for most of his 25 years in office. He says much of this spending is to cover expenses from serving as a lawmaker.clarionJPGTHUMB

But he also receives thousands of dollars a year from taxpayers for expenses. He received $19,440 last year to cover travel, food and other costs beyond the $23,575 considered salary for the part-time legislative job. Kirby lives in Pearl, just a short distance from the Capitol in Jackson.

A Clarion-Ledger investigation shows that for many Mississippi politicians, campaign funds have become personal expense accounts or a second income — potentially tax free. The spending is largely paid for by lobbyists and special interests doing business with state government. They otherwise would not be allowed to lavish cash, gifts or a second income on politicians.

SERIES: Public Office, Private Gain in Mississippi

Campaign funds are shielded from taxes, ethics and other laws because they are ostensibly to be used only for campaigning and records of them are — ostensibly — open to the public.

Most states and the federal government, in efforts to reduce the corrosive influence of money in politics, have stringent reporting requirements. Mississippi doesn’t.

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