Historically, the authority to assess campaign finance civil penalties has rested with the Secretary of State’s Office. In 2017, the legislature transferred the penalty assessment authority to the Ethics Commission. While done with the best intentions, the transfer of authority has created more problems than solutions.
Since 2017, our Elections Division has documented hundreds of candidates and elected officials who failed to comply with campaign finance laws, resulting in more than $100,000 of unpaid fees. Given the lack of compliance from candidates, coupled with the disjointed nature of the entire assessment and collection process, we, and others, specifically the Ethics Commission, believed Senate Bill 2306 would serve as a remedy. The legislation would have shifted the penalty assessment authority back to our office.
The bill passed both chambers with an overwhelming bipartisan majority but, unfortunately, was vetoed by the Governor. Had he consulted with the Ethics Commission or my office before vetoing this legislation, he would have understood the need for revisions.
I believe we should return the penalty assessment power back to an elected official accountable to the public on Election Day, not an administrative body. I commend Senator Jeff Tate, the Ethics Commission, and leadership in both chambers for working diligently on this legislation and hope it will be revisited in the next session.
Secretary of State
State of Mississippi
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