Sunday, March 6, 2016

Campaign Spending Scandal: Can Mississippi's Presidential Primary Shine a Light on the State's Widespread Political Corruption?

For the third Sunday in a row, I am impressed by the Clarion-Ledger's work on the campaign spending corruption scandal in Mississippi. In case you missed it, here is the collected catalogue of articles. If you want even more analysis and evidence of corruption, you should also read my last eight or so posts going back to the summer of 2015 in the archives that show up on the right panel of this blog. 

With national media briefly descending on our state for Tuesday's primary, getting the attention of national press and presidential candidates on this topic could be critical in achieving real reform. The journalists at the CL have done wonderful work and campaign finance reform remains a potentially fertile area of reform on the legislative calendar, but we need to make this more urgent. So I propose a social media campaign to help shame our state legislature into meaningful reforms. 

Despite their great series so far, I think the investigative journalist team at the CL needs help in making this an emotionally charged issue with more hashtag potential and a recognizable brand for social media purposes.

Take the survey below by selecting your favorite brand for the scandal from among the list. By all means, add more suggestions in the blog's comment section. I will try to drum up a few dozen responses this week, but you could help by sharing this post elsewhere. I don't get the traffic I used to back in the #mssen and #MS01 days when this was the go-to blog for analysis of those campaigns.

Ultimately, I hope people participating in this dialogue will come around and share the view of the CL editorial, which suggested that reform should go beyond Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann's laudable but lobbyist-approved idea of only requiring credit card disclosure. I agree with Senators Blount and McDaniel that personal spending of campaign money should be outlawed. Anything else is bribery, embezzlement, tax fraud, double dipping, or corruption by another name.

(UPDATE: Poll does not appear to be working, but you can still scroll through the list)

Which of the following represents the most effective brand for headline and hashtag purposes in the campaign spending scandal in Mississippi? free polls

Monday, February 29, 2016

A Coalition of the Outraged: Latest Reactions to Mississippi's Corrupt State Legislature

This Clarion-Ledger investigation is killing it. 

The latest batch of revelations about politicians using campaign accounts to personally enrich themselves is proving to be the news story that keeps on clicking and the political story that keeps on ticking. How long before this ethical time bomb is defused through some reform? Or will it explode in the face of every corrupt committee chairman who tries to hide it any longer? 

The latest flagship article in the series, appropriately titled "Rule makers have no rules, living large on campaigns,"is making the rounds on Facebook with more than 1,000 shares already. Last week, the first article of the series garnered almost 2,300 shares on Facebook, but state basketball tournaments probably distract some of the more politically active social media users of the state. So the new article probably won't break 2,000 shares based on its current pace. 

Nevertheless, the diversity and political power of those interacting on social media appears to be picking up. In a cursory search, I found public education advocates, tea party leaders, gold star investigative journalists, former higher education administrators, clergymen, Republicans and Democrats all denouncing the corruption of our campaign finance system.

Below are some screenshots of the more fascinating social media exchanges taking place involving opinion leaders of various stripes throughout our state. I tried to include only public officials. Email me at if you want to request that a screenshot be removed. I can't promise I will remove it, but I will consider doing so if politely asked.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

If money equals campaign speech, what are Rep. Mark Formby's $800 boots telling everybody? A message to Mississippi's reporters, lawyers, and idealists: Ride with Dark Horse Mississippi all the way to the Supreme Court!

The inimitable Marshall Ramsey weighs in on recent revelations of campaign finance corruption in Mississippi.
Loyal readers know I don't blog a lot these days.

But when I do, I'm not messing around. That's why this post is so important. If any enterprising lawyers, media types, or all-around idealists are reading this, I have an idea for you.

How would you like a chance to change not just the laws of Mississippi but the laws of the United States of America? I'm talking about the corrupt system of campaign finance ushered in by Citizens United. More specifically, I'm talking about the 2010 Citizens United precedent that later justified corporate payments to political candidates in state elections after a lesser-known 2012 Montana case called American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock.

You're skeptical. I get it, I'm a blogger… in Mississippi. Yeah. Fair enough. But look. Lots of people already think the late Justice Scalia's replacement will help overturn the money equals speech argument upon which Citizens United, a 5-4 case, rested.

Others, perhaps more realistically, believe that the future court's more likely path to reform Citizens United is to place limits on corporate spending in elections wherever corruption or the appearance of corruption undermines the otherwise sacrosanct and now-established principle of money equals speech.

In other words, we can't stop corporations from spending money on elections without rocking the constitutional boat too hard in the opposite direction during the same decade as Citizens United.

But maybe we can use the court's own rationale in Citizens United and Bullock to gradually erode the corrupting influence of money in politics by arguing something else whenever the right test case presents itself: The Supreme Court must invalidate any state laws that allow corporate contributions to political campaigns wherever the payments give rise to corruption or even the appearance of corruption.

That's where Mississippi comes in as the perfect test case. Last summer, Dark Horse Mississippi published a half dozen posts (3 in July, and then 3 in August) about Mississippi's legislators using money from their campaign funds for personal expenses.

For instance, Representative Mark Formby's $800 boots and $30K apartment. Or Senator Dean Kirby's vehicle expenses amounting to more than $36,000 spent on a vehicle for. On top of that, by the way, Kirby charged his own campaign more tens of thousands of dollars for gas money, despite his district being right next door to the capital. Both of these legislators, Kirby and Formby, are veteran lawmakers who have been around Jackson for three decades and who have faced few, if any, opponents in the last few election cycles.

So why were corporations and corporate lobbyists donating to Formby and Kirby in $500 and $1,000 increments, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years if Formby and Kirby never really needed the campaign money? To buy influence of course! But without something called the appearance of corruption, the Supreme Court says that buying influence through a campaign contribution is just fine and dandy. I know, that sounds crazy to the average American with a healthy distrust of politicians, but that's what the Supreme Court said through Justice Kennedy in Citizens United. But that was when Justice Scalia was still alive to join in the 5-4 majorities.

Now, what else has changed aside from Scalia's death to make this issue particularly ripe in an otherwise politically barren state like Mississippi? Why am I so confident that maybe the Magnolia state can help save democracy in the next few years?

Enter into the picture Mississippi's largest newspaper by circulation and persuasion. The Clarion Ledger's Geoff Pender, Mollie Bryant, and Kate Royals published a flagship investigative piece this week entitled "Election officials use campaign funds for private gain."

The investigative team backed up a lot of my original research on Kirby and Formby with quotes from the lawmakers themselves, which to a large extent served to verify the lawmakers' corruption. Pender, Bryant, and Royals also followed up with quotes from others in the state's Democratic and Republican leadership, showing the practice of campaign fund conversion to personal use to be bipartisan as well as widespread--and apparently an inherent glitch to our state's flawed campaign finance system.

FINALLY, I thought, some intrepid reporters with collective hutzpah have covered a story that I knew last summer was political dynamite! One of my friends told me about two years ago when I first discovered Senator Kirby's payment for a vehicle that this was the sort of thing that gets people killed. I disagreed. I believe this story may be the sort of thing that makes reporters, lawyers, and idealists' careers. This is the sort of thing that makes people "Supreme Court famous." More on that in a second...

The Clarion Ledger reporters also published a half dozen other pieces under a new series called Public Office Private Gain, which they promise to follow up on next Sunday. The first batch of stories also included one article that backed up Dark Horse Mississippi in a little spat I had last year with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann about Hosemann's participation in the systematic corruption of lawmakers. Hosemann's office conspired with a derelict lawmaker in late-filing and apparently back-dating a missing campaign finance report. The report mysteriously appeared after a two and a half year absence once I published a post pointing out its absence and the legal consequences. For his part, the politically ambitious but congenial Hosemann denied back-dating anything and blamed computer errors or incompetence on my part (and the half-dozen reporters I showed for confirmation).

Go read all of the Clarion Ledger series' articles after you finish this if you haven't already. The state's paper of record even included a video with summary points and visual aids for your illiterate or impatient friends.

I hope other media outlets will take notice and bring further attention to Mississippi as the perfect test case to blow a giant hole in Citizens United. If you doubt the gravitas or track record of a Mississippi blogger in suggesting that this is a major story, consider this. In 2014, this blog's author spoke to the New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg at her request and Motherjones' Tim Murphy at his request about my publishing audio of Senator Thad Cochran's insurgent Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel making some racially charged comments. I also leaked a second batch of controversial comments about a week later, which Motherjones also helped me to circulate throughout the land. Both of these leaks by this blog led to viral reports from just about every national political news news outlet about Cochran's polarizing Tea Party challenger.

State Senator McDaniel, a Ted Cruz in-the-making at the time, won the first primary in June 2014 but then lost in the runoff. This was a nasty race that culminated in a nursing home break-in conspiracy, arrests, a trial, and a suicide. Despite lots of other mud thrown, laws broken, and power abused by both sides, McDaniel ultimately lost that primary election in large part because in the runoff Cochran decided to play the race card and used McDaniel's own racially charged comments to encourage African Americans to cross over and vote for in the Republican primary for the moderate incumbent U.S. Senator. Most experts, including the big data election savant, Nate Silver, agreed that Cochran's race card strategy made all the difference in saving Senator Cochran in that runoff election. Cochran is now the Senate Appropriations Chairman, so don't ever let anyone tell you that bloggers are insignificant.

But DHM is not a one-trick pony. This blog's author has also been a part of potentially swaying a special election to replace the late Congressman Alan Nunnelee after I published a series of memes in 2015 showing that Dr. Starner Jones, another Tea Party insurgent and a frontrunner at the time, was a naughty doctor who had written some rapey fiction disguised as Christian melodrama. Both Wonkette and Esquire had a bit of fun with that.

While my argument that this blog helped tip the scale in this second instance in 2015 does not have Nate Silver's blessing for the special congressional race in Mississippi's First District, I could tell from reports by candidates' staff in the field in April of 2015 that my work had some effect. I could also tell based on my blog's astronomical page impressions before the election that my leak of Dr. Jones's disturbing novel with lurid and strange sex scenes was having a major impact. Again, that disclosure made a big difference in that election, as Dr. Jones was not able to advance to a runoff who, despite his aggressive advertising in the Memphis media market with an effective Dr. Ben Carson-esque message. In the opinion of political reporter Sam Hall, Dr. Jones's momentum was blunted by the rapey fiction revelations, which also helped end his political career forever in that reporter's opinion. Again, this is all to say that this blog has a track record of being first and being right about big political stories.

Ok, enough about me and my past glories. Back to the Supreme Court and potential future glories. There are a couple possibilities that I see for ending the corrupt practices of law makers exploiting a faulty system of campaign finance laws, a system that encourages and rewards lawmakers' corruption with $800 boots, Jackson apartments, paid-for vehicles, and other legislator swag. A system that creates a second lobbyist-paid income for these supposedly public servants on the taxpayer dole.

Either (A) Formby, Kirby, and others are such an aberration that they should be criminally prosecuted, and the federal government needs to step up and stop this nonsense by investigating Mississippi politicians for tax evasion, mail fraud, and racketeering; or (B) if Mississippi refuses to change its laws to stop this form of legalized bribery, then the Supreme Court of the United States (or the 5th Circuit) should find that this particular campaign finance system system establishes the outer limits of Citizens United and therefore meets the "appearance of corruption" test at the very least.

I don't think (A) will happen in part, because there would be chaos if the federal government investigated and indicted our state's entire leadership. But I do think option (B) is possible. And once Citizens United is limited by an easy test case like this, we should see the turning of the tide to stop other corporate and lobbyist abuses of our democracy thanks to Justice Scalia going on to greener pastures of broccoli.

The appearance of corruption is real here. The story that this blog helped uncover and the Clarion Ledger has blown wide open has Tea Partiers, teachers, and progressives all incensed on social media. The flagship article on the Clarion Ledger website has over 2,100 shares on Facebook since it was published on Sunday. That's 700 more shares than the infamous story about ex Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps' prison graft story, which was written by the legendary investigative reporter team of Jerry Mitchell and Jimmie E. Gates. The latter garnered so much attention that it later led to a front page spread in the New York Times.

So I know we're going big places with this. Maybe awards for the journalists involved but hopefully also a prosecution or two and a change to the laws. I have an eye for spotting these sorts of trends in what would outrage people, as fallen politicians like Senator McDaniel and Dr. Jones may attest. I think 2,100 engaged Mississippians and their friends are not likely to be wrong. And the 2,100 who shared the story on Facebook and engaged in angry conversation in the 2,100 comment sections to their post are only a fraction of those who passively read without sharing on Facebook, not to mention those who read the paper's physical circulation copies (a Sunday edition) or otherwise read the story online or from links on Twitter.

This thing has some legs, and if it has legs, then someone has to have standing to sue before we go to court. So who? Well, let's start with voters and campaign contributors in Formby and Kirby's neighborhoods. Why wouldn't a voter or campaign contributor be able to argue that their representative is captive to corporate interests, since their lawmaker is literally paying his car payment or his rent or for the shoes on his feet with big business's or their lobbyists' checks? Why would such a person with a vested interest in the integrity of the process, including a voter, contributor, or former competitor, not have standing to sue the governor, secretary of state, the legislature, or whoever else must be sued for an injunction in this case? Isn't their freedom of speech and their vote as sacrosanct as that of a corporation? (Paging attorney Jim Waide, paging attorney Jim Waide.)

That may not be a slam dunk for standing in this lawyer's opinion. But if we can get standing, the 5th Circuit's seemingly immovable object of conservatism and corporate leanings cannot stop the unstoppable force of voters' outrage that their politicians are subject to legalized bribery!

And if the case is actually heard, which I think it could be this year or next year, how great will it be to depose under oath such an awesome cast of actors in this drama!

I'm talking about all of these lawmakers converting campaign money to personal use. I'm also talking about conspirator lobbyists and their unwitting campaign contributors who attended swanky fundraisers. And I'm also talking about the voters who imagined their small donations at picnics and barbecues and their votes mattered in determining how the legislators ultimately carried out the people's business when taking a second income from lobbyists. And finally, I'm talking about getting on the record some of the reporters who have already gathered up all the evidence and are prepared to impeach the ever-loving-hell out of the corrupt politicians and lobbyists.

Are you telling me that there is no colorable argument that this is the perfect test case to show the limits of Citizens United as it applies to situations where there is at the least an "appearance of corruption?"

In the words of the late Justice Scalia, Pure Applesauce!

So, good reporters, idealists, and lawyers of the world, if you follow my simple recipe, you may be able to change the world in a pretty badass way. Using Mississippi's corrupt campaign finance laws to abrogate Citizens United is as badass and unexpected as Walter White blowing up Tuco Salamanca's lair in Season One of Breaking Bad. But instead of doing bad for good reasons, you will be doing good for great reasons: saving democracy. And Dark Horse Mississippi is there with you along for the ride if you wish! I'll sign the damn complaint if necessary, but I may not be the expert we need (paging attorney Jim Waide, paging Jim Waide).

If anyone is seriously interested in pursuing this as a story, as a lawyer, or as an activist party, please email me: Consider this a solicitation for legal purposes, but that's not my intent really. This is mostly for information purposes, slightly less for entertainment purposes, and even less for client solicitation purposes. So there...

We can change the world if this thing is heard in federal court and standing is granted. On the other hand, if Mississippi gets its act together and fixes the law this term, the controversy may become moot. Either way, at the major league (Supreme Court or 5th Circuit) level or at the state legislative level, democracy wins! We have the legislature boxed in! If they don't change the law to explicitly make illegal the conversion to personal use of campaign contributions, the bastards risk overturning Citizens United, which is the lobbyists' nightmare scenario.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Delbert Hosemann's Blindspot: Missing & Incomplete Campaign Finance Reports Are Covering Up the Sale of Mississippi's Politicians

Since today is primary runoff Tuesday, we'll hear some high-minded pronouncements from Mississippi's election watchdog, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

Hosemann is the official who will certify the election results, announce any unforeseen problems, and make general observations about turnout before the day is done. Recall that Hosemann cares so much about the integrity of our elections that he credits himself with the "success" of the implementation of Voter ID, although columnist Bill Minor cited a recent federal ruling that questions whether success in limiting access at the polls really means voter suppression.

Photo Credit: AP

Despite his rhetoric about preserving the integrity of Mississippi's elections, Secretary Hosemann's office seems to care very little about the overall integrity of Mississippi's political system. While grandstanding as a champion against (non-existent) in-person voter fraud, Hosemann has shown an astonishingly high tolerance for fraud perpetrated by elected officials once in office.

As this blog has shown, at least four leading lawmakers in Mississippi have embezzled tens of thousands of dollars from their campaign accounts on Hosemann's watch during Hosemann's current four-year term:

(i) Since 2011, Finance Chairman and State Senator Joey Fillingane embezzled from his campaign account approximately $26,000 for clothing, vehicle expenses, apartment expenses, and cell phone expenses, although Fillingane faced no opponent in 2011, faces only a general election opponent this year, and has a short drive to the capital, which is right next to his district.

(ii) Since 2011, Public Health and Welfare Chairman, Finance Vice-Chairman, and State Senator Dean Kirby embezzled from his campaign account $36,744.38 to purchase a vehicle and car insurance and $14,876.99 for fuel when his district adjoins the capital and he has faced no opponent in the last two elections. Since 2011, Kirby also embezzled from his campaign account an additional $32,059.70 on other items such as cell phone expenses, credit card bills, and furniture for a total of $68,804.08 in what appear to be embezzled funds documented in Kirby's own handwriting using Kirby's campaign account in the last four years.

(iii) Since 2011, Education Chairman and State Representative John Moore embezzled from his campaign account $9,300 for transportation costs in a non-election year (2013) and an additional $6,100 in 2012 for expenses that are illegally undesignated either as itemized disbursements or (exempt from disclosure due to aggregate amounts of less than $200) unitemized disbursements.

(iv) Since 2011, it had originally appeared that Rules Chairman and State Representative Mark Formby embezzled from his campaign account only $22,035.00 for a Jackson-area apartment. However, since I blew the whistle on Formby's 2012 annual campaign finance report in that blog, which was fraudulently submitted by Secretary Hosemann on Formby's behalf and showed only $0 spent and $0 cash on hand (a mathematical impossibility considering carryover's of cash on hand from previous years), a new amended report for 2012 has been uploaded by Secretary Hosemann with March 15, 2013 shown as the "filed date"--although the report was never uploaded until two and a half years later on August 24, 2015--disclosing Formby's Jackson-area apartment embezzlement total to be $29,778.17 since 2011 based on the newly disclosed $7,743.17 disbursement to Nejam Properties for 2012 (See series of screen shots below).

Secretary Hosemann's Incompetence or Complicity With Campaign Finance Fraud

A DHM post from last week helped to force Secretary Hosemann to do his job and upload the fraudulent 2012 annual report of Representative John Moore. Contrary to law, the report was unavailable online for 2 1/2 years, but exposure by DHM led Hosemann to upload it late, although he lied and said that it was uploaded when it was filed.

Lies to coverup his own incompetence or other candidates'  campaign finance crimes are becoming an unbecoming pattern for the "champion of election integrity" Secretary Hosemann when it comes to late-filed campaign finance reports containing further evidence of fraud or crimes. It happened again this week after DHM published evidence that Hosemann actually filed Representative Mark Formby's 2012 report on Formby's behalf. That report showed a mathematically impossible $0 cash on hand when carryovers from previous years should have accounted for more than $50,000 if the balance was truly $0.

Lo and behold, again more than 2 1/2 years late, Hosemann's office uploaded an amended report a day after my blog post on the fraudulent and criminal omission by Representative Formby. Was it Formby's fault or Hosemann's fault? I'm going to credit Hosemann and Formby for this one, since Formby should have filed his own original report on time in the first place, rather than allow Hosemann to submit one on his behalf subject to later amendment.

But as for Hosemann and what is beginning to be a glaring blindspot in his competency as an elections official, the man has 110 people listed as staff on his website, with 15 devoted to technical issues, 10 devoted to regulation and enforcement, 4 devoted to research and policy, 6 devoted to administration, and 8 devoted to elections. Yet one blogger found two serious mistakes (Formby and Moore's missing 2012 reports) made by Hosemann and his 110 professional staffers in a matter of hours. I know you picture me in my mom's basement with a ponytail, a yellow-stained t-shirt, and a bowl of Chex Mix right now, but I'm way cooler than that.

The law is clear on the intent of campaign finance disclosure. People have a right to know who is spending money influencing their politicians, and people and law enforcement officials have a right to know how politicians spend their campaign money to protect against fraud, bribery, and all manner of abuse of power. That is why Secretary Hosemann has the enforcement mechanisms in his power--the ability to fine officials and start procedures to stop officials' salaries or even charge officials with misdemeanors and jail them for missing or incomplete campaign finance reports. Yet we see the opposite. Except for when you are on Hosemann's bad side such as was the case with Senator Sojourner in 2014 or the anti-establishment anonymous mailers this year against whom Hosemann is happy to enforce the law, Hosemann is reluctant to enforce the law. Instead, he has been complicit in its violation as has been the case with Formby and Moore.

And as the following screenshots will show, transparency matters. How many of Rep. Formby's voters, for instance, knew that he spent thousands using campaign reelection funds to travel and stay more than 600 miles away in Tampa, Florida during the 2012 presidential convention? What does a presidential convention have to do with reelection to represent people in Picayune? How many people who vote for Formby knew that this money was spent on such a frivolous campaign expense until this week when DHM embarrassed Secretary Hosemann into doing his job and uploading this report?

Plus, as the forgoing series of screenshots will show, the unavailability of Formby's report concealed many material facts related to his spending of campaign funds for personal expenses. There is, for instance, the matter of Formby spending $7,743,17 in 2012 on a Jackson-area apartment using campaign funds when his actual constituents live more than two hours away in the Picayune area. That brings the total apartment expense to an astonishing $29,778.17 since 2012.

I think Hosemann and Formby are probably both nice guys in person, but they are both facilitating the sale of Mississippi's democracy to the highest bidders. That is wrong, and someone needs to do something about it. Lobbyists are not supposed to pay politicians an extra salary. Taxpayers pay politicians' salaries in exchange for those politicians' loyalties to the taxpayers and children of their district. Is it any wonder that these same four lawmakers paying themselves extra out of campaign accounts are against fully funding education? Is it any wonder that they won't expand Medicaid to help the poor?

I wish the press and other public officials, including prosecutors and law enforcement, would jump into the fray on this campaign finance abuse in Mississippi and make it a real cause, rather than this lone voice in the internet wilderness.

If anything can be done to help Mississippi help itself, we need the right people steering the ship. Unfortunately, the four Chairmen named in this blog and the Secretary of State that oversees their abuses are not the right captains to steer the ship of Mississippi into a better future on health, finance, education, rules or any of the other committees or interests those chairman and lawmakers lead.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Rules Chairman Breaking the Rules? Rep. Mark Formby is Corrupt from the Roof Over His Head to the Boots on His Feet, & Delbert Hosemann May Be the Racketeer Puppeteer of Corrupt Embezzlers, Double Billers, & Tax Evaders in Mississippi's Statehouse

Mississippi State Representative Mark Formby joins a growing lineup of statehouse politicians caught embezzling money from their own campaign accounts. A former legislative assistant to ex-United States Senator Trent Lott, Formby became a state legislator more than two decades ago in 1993.

While Formby's critics admit that he seems to be a nice guy, a nice guy is not the same thing as a good public servant. As the evidence will prove in Part I of this post, Representative Mark Formby is effectively selling his office by paying himself an under-the-table salary from the lobbyist donations in his campaign account. As the evidence will also suggest in Part II of this post, in at least one instance, Mr. Formby appears to have conspired with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann to skirt the most fundamental of campaign finance reporting requirements: submitting an annual report for the year 2012.

Representative Mark Formby: Even critics say he is a nice guy, but should the Rules Chairman be allowed to break campaign finance rules, fail to report contributions and expenses, and enrich himself from the roof over his head to the boots on his feet?

Plotting Representative Formby's corruption: This chart shows a correlation from 2009 to 2014 between aggregate annual contributions from one-day lobbyist fundraisers for Rep. Formby's campaign account (green line) and aggregate annual apartment expenses paid from Rep. Formby's campaign account (red line).

Part I: Statehouse Corruption from Roof to Boots

Since 2013, Representative Formby has spent at least a total of $22,035.00 from his campaign account on a Jackson-area apartment. The roof over Rep. Formby's head, according to his own campaign finance reports, leases for $705.00 per month, which makes it likely that Formby is leasing a 2-bedroom apartment listed for $705 per month, according to the property manager's website.

The property manager, Nejam Properties, is identified on Formby's campaign finance reports, which are listed in chronological order since 2009 in screenshot form below. Notice that Formby's campaign-paid apartment expenses remained relatively low at $2,675.61 in 2009 (through intermediary and fellow legislator Joey Fillingane) and at just below $4,000 in 2010 until the expenses mysteriously disappeared in 2011 and 2012.

Rep. Formby omitted any apartment expenses from his 2011 campaign finance reports--a curiosity considering that 2011 was an actual election year. If the apartment was so crucial for his campaign as to require Formby spending significant amounts of campaign funds on it in years before and after the 2011 campaign, why not list the apartment as a campaign expense for the actual campaign year? Perhaps more obviously damning for Formby, though, is the fact that he failed to file a valid campaign finance report at all for 2012, which is itself a criminal omission punishable as a misdemeanor, as I will explain below in more detail in Part II of this post.

Formby's apartment expenses suddenly shot up from the aforementioned $0 in 2011 and 2012 to more than $8,460 per year by 2013, 2014, and 2015, as screenshots below show. The 2015 data shows that Formby is on track to again spend more than $8,000 on his apartment this year, since he appears to be paying $705 or more for the apartment expense on a monthly basis at least through last month's most recent campaign finance report.

What changed? Why is Rep. Formby suddenly raiding his campaign account--essentially embezzling--to pay for a permanent Jackson-area apartment for the last three years when he has been in office for the last two decades representing his constituents just fine without embezzling out of a campaign account to pay for such living expenses?

As the following set of screenshots below shows, something has changed fundamentally since Formby was elevated to his current leadership position as Rules Chairman in the Mississippi House. Specifically, the evidence below shows that Formby has been a busy boy from 2013 to 2015, holding one-day fundraisers primarily attended by hordes of power-hungry lobbyists and influence peddlers (e.g., notice names like Austin Barbour and lesser known representatives of Koch Industries, Entergy, and AT&T, to name a few).

Certain industries and special interests seek influence among senior lawmakers in Jackson, so Formby's newfound ability to raise $16,434 in one day, as he was able to do on June 30, 2014, should not shock anyone. The purpose of this blog is not to impugn the integrity of all lobbyists; most lobbyists contribute money to politicians in good faith hoping that those allied politicians will use the money to get reelected, not so that those politicians feather their own personal nest with the contribution.

These one-day fundraiser-paloozas are conspicuously absent from Formby's campaign finance reports before 2013--and technically before 2011, the last year of valid campaign finance reports on record for Formby before 2013, since Secretary Hosemann gave Formby a pass on filing a valid report for 2012 (See Part II, below).

But based on Formby's ballooning campaign embezzlement during the same time period as his ballooning lobbyist contributions, it appears Formby decided to reward himself for his newfound outsized influence, rather than use the funds to secure his reelection as our current system intended. With so many campaign courtiers kissing the royal ring of this Rules Chairman, the evidence shows that Formby gave himself the royal treatment. Beyond leasing a Jackson apartment for the entire year from 2013 forward, Formby also spent $802.48 earlier this year using his campaign account at "Boots N More," a boots store in Jackson.

Giving Formby the benefit of the doubt, we may infer that the boots expense was for some legitimate campaign disbursement such as to pay for boots as prizes for a fundraiser or raffle. Even if this were true (who knows based on Formby's other embezzlement activity), there is the problem of using campaign funds to make repairs to Formby's Yukon vehicle about a month before what appears to be the boot purchase.

This ain't Corrupt Cowboy Formby's first rodeo. Evidence shows that Formby is corrupt from his roof to his boots. In fact, Formby appears to grow more corrupt in correlative proportion to the increased volume of lobbyist contributions since 2012--the contributions being themselves a byproduct of influence peddlers' legalized corruption as they seek to curry more favor from Formby in his wildly inappropriate committee assignment as Rules Chairman these last four years.

As the table above summarizes the evidence against Rules Chairman Formby thus far, it becomes apparent that it's not just recently convicted felon and former Mississippi Department of Corrections Chief Chris Epps that we needed to be concerned about, and it's not just the reported federal investigation into State Frauditor Stacey Pickering's campaign embezzlement we should view as the next piece of Mississippi's corrupt political infrastructure to collapse.

Across the board, and especially throughout Mississippi's key leadership posts in the statehouse (as this blog has especially pointed out in the last month), it seems the inmates are in charge of the dysfunctional state asylum that we call Mississippi.

No doubt, some are shaking their head, mumbling to themselves as they read this that Rules Chairman Formby was not breaking any laws. But Formby's Jackson-area apartment (an asset his campaign spent $28,518.00 on since 2009) especially raises thorny issues for the lawmaker, including some ethical problems and some legal problems.

First, residential apartments are not campaign expenses. They are living expenses. Apartments should never be listed as campaign expenses unless the apartment is a business office maintained solely for constituent outreach or other related campaign purposes, which is not likely when Formby's capital-area apartment is located more than two hours away from Formby's district in Picayune.

In other states and at the federal level, people go to prison for paying living expenses out of campaign accounts. In Mississippi, the state's prohibition on embezzling campaign funds for personal or living expenses is not as direct. But paying for living expenses out of a campaign account is in of itself a corrupt act--the equivalent of bribery or embezzlement depending on the circumstances--and I am convinced that the corrupt intent of this act, along with committing a fraud using the mail or telephone lines, may be prosecuted as a federal crime.

Even if campaign fund embezzlement is not illegal for Mississippians in state or local elections, the personal use of campaign funds raises the possibility of other crimes, including double-billing of taxpayers for expenses and tax evasion if taxes were not paid on what is effectively an extra income (that $28,518.00 benefit Formby has received from the Jackson apartment since 2009).

State law in Mississippi provides for legislators' remuneration in several ways, including taxpayer-funded salaries of $22,000 per year plus expenses. There must be some reason why taxpayers pay legislators. Oh yeah, they are elected to represent the public. If they are effectively paid by lobbyists such as Rules Chairman Formby has been the last few years, then that is an ethical problem of its own.

But in terms of legal problems, consider the pay package specifics. Legislators are paid a $10,000 base salary for the four months while in session, and they are provided another $1,500 per month allowance for the remaining months of the year for a total of $22,000 per year in salary. Legislators also receive a per diem stipend for other session-related expenses, including for special sessions, committee meetings, etc. Finally, legislators receive expense reimbursement for travel at a rate of more than 50 cents per mile, not to mention various fringe benefits and a separate but generous system of state retirement unique to lawmakers.

All of this should make a corrupt lawmakers' hair stand up on end, because even if taxes are being paid on the additional income from campaign fund embezzlement and the lawmaker has covered his tracks to avoid a tax evasion charge, the possibility that the lawmaker is still double billing taxpayers should make corrupt lawmakers lose sleep at night.

The total pay range for lawmakers in Mississippi's statehouse tends to range from about $30k to about $70k, depending on factors such as leadership roles and distance from Jackson, since travel is reimbursed based on total mileage. The mileage issue seems to be the most ripe area for potential double-billing by lawmakers. Double billing for mileage seems to be more of a potential problem for previously featured corrupt politicians on this blog such as Rep. John Moore (Education Chair), Senator Dean Kirby (Finance Vice Chair and Health and Public Welfare Chair), and Senator Joey Fillingane (Finance Chair). All three spent a lot of money on transportation costs using their campaign accounts, while they also accepted expense reimbursements for travel on the taxpayer's dime.

But that doesn't mean Rules Chairman Formby is off the hook. The question remains to be answered whether Formby paid taxes on the $28,518.00 benefit he received from his campaign account's disbursement for usage of a year-round apartment in the Jackson-area when his constituents lived more than two hours away.

The second question remains to be answered whether Formby was compensated in the form of a per diem or lodging reimbursement at any time while also embezzling duplicative living expense payments out of his campaign account. If so, Formby double billed taxpayers, and the State Auditor should do his job and demand Formby repay the taxpayers or face charges for his misconduct. But no one should hold their breath for Pickering's investigation into lawmakers' double billing based on campaign finance embezzlement given Stacey Pickering's own campaign fund embezzlement scandals and a reported FBI probe.

There is no question that Mississippians should pay legislators more to recruit better public servants and to encourage continual devotion to legislative duties. Pay raises for judges have been justified in recent years to help qualified judges avoid the temptation of leaving the bench for more lucrative private sector careers and to help less scrupulous judges avoid the temptation of outright bribery. If only our state legislators had the integrity to demand the same set of rules for themselves, they could approve a pay raise guaranteeing their own loyalty to taxpayers, rather than depending on lobbyists for legally dubious under-the-table salaries.

Then perhaps we would not have rules and finance chairmen breaking campaign finance rules in the Mississippi Statehouse. But then Kirby, Fillingane, Formby, and even Moore are a different type of lawmaker unique to Mississippi. All four vote against the poor in the poorest state in the nation. All four, for instance, voted to refuse expansion of Medicaid, and all four voted to thwart popular attempts to fully fund education while paying themselves generously out of campaign-donor slush funds of the sort that would make Nixon blush while giving his Checkers Speech.

Also, all four--Kirby, Formby, Moore, and Fillingane--have been in politics for decades and should know better. Instead all four seem to be getting worse in terms of their corruption. And most curiously, all four of these South Mississippi lawmakers personally appeared to speak before a blatantly white supremacist organization, the Council of Conservative Citizens.

While campaign finance violations are bipartisan and transcend racial lines as well, it takes a special kind of hypocrite to embezzle campaign funds while pretending to be financially responsible, tough on crime, and against government abuses. How long before the sound of cold steel slamming shut ends this practice of Mississippi politicians nibbling on their own cheese-baited traps?

Part II: The Racketeer Puppeteer, Delbert Hosemann, and the Conspiracy to Undermine Democracy

In dereliction of his duty as the official tasked with enforcing campaign finance laws in Mississippi, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann conspired with Representative Mark Formby to file a fraudulent campaign finance report on the Rules Chairman's behalf, and Hosemann has made no effort to correct the fraud upon Mississippi's democracy more than two years later.

Secretary of State Hosemann appears to be helping allied lawmakers violate campaign finance laws while politically crucifying his political enemies for similar violations. Is this not the very definition of corruption and racketeering by Hosemann? And by concealing the campaign finance purse strings that pull on various state government actors as well as helping lawmakers evade punishment for breaking the laws he is charged with enforcing, is Hosemann the one ultimately pulling all of the strings as the racketeer puppeteer for Mississippi's corrupt statehouse? 
As the screenshot below shows, Rules Chairman Formby's 2012 annual campaign finance report shows $0 raised, $0 spent, and the improbable balance of $0 cash on hand. There is simply no accounting from Formby at all for his campaign finance activities in 2012. Worst of all, the 2012 report shown immediately below is signed by Secretary Hosemann rather than by Formby, making this perhaps the most egregious example of a campaign finance violation on file with the Secretary of State.

The improbable balance of $0 cash on hand, as represented above in Hosemann's own handwriting, becomes an impossible balance of $0 cash on hand once one reviews the following two screen shots showing subsequent and previous reports filed for 2011 and 2013 that show more than fifty-thousand dollars cash on hand after and before the missing year of 2012.

As this blog has argued for the last month, a pattern of corruption emerges from a review of legislators' campaign finance reports in the form of hard evidence of wrongdoing in lawmakers' own handwriting. In some cases, the campaign finance reports submitted by legislators in Mississippi may as well be signed confessions to embezzlement, double-billing taxpayers, and income tax evasion. So what does it say when the official tasked with enforcing these laws also becomes a co-conspirator in the violation of these laws?

Something interesting happened as I scoured the archives of campaign finance reports and published what I considered evidence of potential corruption of one legislator a few weeks ago. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann reached out to me directly to support his political ally, Rep. John Moore, when this blog reported that Moore's 2012 campaign finance report was not available online and seemed to have never been filed.

I gather that part of why Hosemann contacted me was that I had raised the issue of inconsistency in enforcement by Hosemann's office, as he had politically crucified another lawmaker, an anti-establishment foe of Hosemann's, Senator Melanie Sojourner, by imposing a fine and initiating processes that led to that lawmaker forfeiting her salary because she was a few months late in turning in her campaign finance report.

That treatment of Hosemann's political enemy seemed incongruous to me when the establishment political ally of Hosemann, Rep. Moore, was apparently two and a half year's late but was allowed to continue receiving his check as a legislator and Education Chair without any consequences at all. The paper of record, as my blog pointed out, had even mentioned potential jail time and a misdemeanor charge as a potential next step in enforcement if Sorjourner's report was not turned in per Hosemann's demand.

That episode from 2014 was not the last time Hosemann threatened serious consequences for certain campaign finance violators. Just last month, the Clarion-Ledger again reported that Hosemann was on the hunt for violators of campaign finance laws--this time the sources of anonymous mailers attacking establishment politicians, because those campaigners never registered with the Secretary of State or adequately filled out mandatory campaign finance reports. I agree with Hosemann on enforcing these laws, but he shouldn't be allowed to pick and choose who is punished based on their political kinship with his establishment tribe.

In a series of direct messages to me on Twitter, Hosemann suggested that Moore's 2012 report was always available online since 2012. Hosemann denied that Moore's 2012 report was either filed or uploaded late, and while I appreciated his reaching out to me, I felt insulted in that he was insinuating that I either lied or made a mistake when I had not. Prior to Hosemann contacting me but after my blog post that had prompted Hosemann's contact, Moore's 2012 report magically appeared online.

I felt vindicated that I took screenshots accounting for the previous absence of Moore's report, and I was also relieved that I had contacted two reputable sources to confirm for me in writing that Moore's 2012 report was not available more than two and a half years past its deadline during the 2015 Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi.

In short, I am saying that based on his past communication with me and his uneven enforcement of campaign finance laws, I do not trust Delbert Hosemann. So again, I have contacted other reputable sources and will provide screen shots below showing that no amended 2012 report was ever filed by Rep. Formby, as had been the case with Rep. Moore when I first blogged about his omission of any 2012 report. The screenshots below show the exhaustive list of results when searching for Formby's reports on the Secretary of State's website. Notice only one report is filed in 2013, and that is the 2012 report with fraudulent information ($0 cash on hand) signed by Hosemann. That report was supposed to be subject to amendment, but the amendment to that report never happened. Or at least it was never filed and uploaded as required by law.

Therefore, Rules Chairman Formby is years late in filing his 2012 campaign finance report, and the Secretary of State has an affirmative duty to fine Formby, refer the matter to the Department of Finance and Administration to stop and possibly even claw back some of Formby's salary, and then thoroughly embarrass Formby in front of the media by threatening additional consequences such as jail time. But given that Hosemann actually conspired with Rules Chairman Formby to break the rules in this case, don't hold your breath waiting for any of that to happen.

So if you're keeping score in Mississippi, our chief of prisons, our chief auditor of public corruption, and our chief campaign finance enforcer have all compromised themselves legally, ethically, and politically. If Mississippi is to clean up corruption any time soon, it must do so with a personnel change. Given State Auditor Pickering's win in his primary, however, I don't have much faith in Mississippi's political process as a way to make that personnel change either.

Meanwhile, Mississippi's lawmakers feather their own nests using campaign funds in a variety of schemes, including a shell game using credit cards to mask personal expenses, reporting an excessive amount of unitemized disbursements that should be itemized, and blatant and open conversion of campaign contributions to personal use in what some have described as a system of legalized bribery.

But when public corruption reaches such a level of banality, I think it may be time to bring back the old-time religion practiced by some federal prosecutors: racketeering charges.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Is Sec. Hosemann Racketeering Now Too, Or Is His Office Just Incompetent? Rep. John Moore's Annual Campaign Finance Report For 2012 Magically Uploaded 30 Months Late But Backdated as "Filed" Feb. 2013

State Representative John Moore perhaps didn't forget his homework after all. Instead, it's possible that his dog ate it, if his dog is named Delbert Hosemann.

The prospect that the Mississippi Secretary of State's office somehow failed to upload Rep. Moore's campaign finance report has become more likely, after the report was finally uploaded to the state website more than two years late.

Compelling evidence that Rep. Moore's report was sent in approximately on time includes the facsimile report generated with an internal date stamp for 2013. Notice the bottom of each page, as demonstrated by the screenshots below, shows upside-down the facsimile number and the identity of the sender's machine next to a date: Jan. 31, 2013.

Notice, however, that I do not consider Secretary of State Hosemann's file stamp (screenshot immediately below) as authoritative proof that Moore's report was submitted on time. Why?

There are two reasons why Hosemann's stamp isn't worth the paper he prints it on: first, Hosemann's stamp represents his office as a poor factual witness; second, Hosemann's stamp represents his office as a poor character witness.

First, this report was entirely absent from the online database as late as July 30, 2015, even though the report should have been online more than two years before that if the Secretary of State's office actually filed it.

If Moore's 2012 annual report was really "filed" by Feb. 1, 2013, as Hosemann's stamp suggests, internal policy and the law dictates that the report should have been uploaded for public inspection for the last thirty months, but it was not.

And I confirmed the absence of that report as late as July 29, 2015 by my own witness and my own previous screenshots. More importantly, at least two disinterested parties confirmed in writing to me during the Neshoba County Fair last month that Moore's 2012 annual report was not publicly available. And both of these witnesses are credible professionals who know how to search campaign finance records. So, something is amiss. Could Secretary Hosemann fill in the gaps as to why the report was missing for the last thirty months perhaps? I tried.

But in addition to his file stamp running counter to the other evidence, Hosemann's office lacks credibility in explaining the inconsistency of this report being unavailable online while being marked filed, because Hosemann has refused for weeks now to answer straightforward my questions about why--if this report was filed and uploaded on time--that Moore's 2012 annual report was not available for public viewing until late this Summer.

Below are screenshots of the direct message conversation Secretary Hosemann initiated on Twitter. I gave him a few weeks to settle the questions I have, but since he has not followed up as of today (August 17th), I decided to post our conversation here in the hopes that Hosemann's office can answer for the inconsistencies now.

It would be a hell of a coincidence for several people to be unable to find a campaign finance report and then by some glitch for same report to be found with ease a day or two later after my blog post about the omission, unless the Secretary of State's office played a role in uploading the report in some untimely fashion. That directly contradicts Hosemann's statements in these direct message Tweets to me. He states plainly that his office uploaded the reports contemporaneous with its filing, which was Feb. 1, 2013, according to his stamp. And yet, Hosemann won't answer for why the report was unavailable in my searches and those of two other witnesses last month.

The only question for Rep. Moore and Secretary Hosemann now is: was this more evidence of corruption of the sort that includes what appears to be State Senator Kirby's scheme to buy a car with campaign funds? Or is this just incompetence on Secretary Hosemann's part along with minor league corruption of covering up Hosemann's own incompetence?

A compelling case may be made based on additional evidence from Moore's late-filed 2012 report that by failing to upload the report in a timely fashion, Secretary Hosemann effectively concealed for a period of thirty months some more of Moore's own corruption in terms of misspending campaign funds on personal expenses in non-election years.

Notice in the screenshot below that Moore's 2012 report fails to list any itemized or non-itemized expenses, yet somehow $6,100 was deducted from the campaign account. By law, Moore should have noted whether any of these expenses were under or over the $200.00 threshold in the aggregate, since law requires that the $200.00 threshold determines whether a campaign must report the recipient of the campaign disbursement. By failing to include this information at all, Moore is violating campaign finance laws and may be hiding embezzlement of campaign funds for personal expenses.

My last blog post investigates Moore's campaign finance reports generally, and that post showed how Moore spent $9,300 on transportation costs in a non-election year (2013) from his campaign account. Almost 10 Gs seems inordinate for transportation anyway, especially in a non-election year when Moore's district is right next to the state capital and when transportation costs for legislative duties are already reimbursed by taxpayers. Raiding the campaign account for such expenses raises the corrupt specters of embezzlement, double billing, and potential tax evasion by Moore.

That brings me back to the unaccounted for $6,100 for the year 2012, an amount that is not itemized or non-itemized. While listed as a deduction from the campaign account, the missing $6,100 could potentially be more evidence of Moore's corrupt embezzlement of campaign funds.

And because Secretary Hosemann failed to upload the 2012 report with the missing $6,100 for 30 months, and then Hosemann later denied that the report was uploaded late despite evidence to the contrary, one could deduce that Hosemann is complicit in Moore's corruption because he helped to cover up more evidence of it.

And such complicity in a coverup is the very essence of a racketeering scheme, especially when Secretary Hosemann has been inconsistent in these campaign finance reporting infractions for other lawmakers in Mississippi who are not part of the good old boys network. Recall from my last post that Hosemann (rightfully in my opinion) persecuted Senator Sojourner last year for failing to timely file her own campaign finance report; Sojourner was fined, forfeited her salary temporarily, and was threatened with jail time for not filing her campaign finance report, which was less than a year late.

In other words, Hosemann nearly followed the letter of the law against a political enemy in his own party. Meanwhile, as he was sharpening the knives for a Tea Party foe, evidence suggests Hosemann sat on his establishment ally Moore's report for thirty months--for more than triple the amount of time Sojourner was late.

Unless Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann made a mistake, which his office has not admitted to so far, the sudden appearance of this report may be considered evidence that Hosemann is complicit in an effort to conceal Rep. Moore's violation of campaign finance laws, including the missing $6,100 from 2012 that brings to mind the misspent $9,300 from 2013.

Embezzlement? Tax evasion? Double billing? Racketeering? If ever the FBI wanted to make an example out of a bunch of rotten politicians who take from the rich and withhold from the poor, many in the Mississippi legislature may be the perfect poster boys.

I don't have any faith that our own state or local prosecutors will take this on, since many of them have their own campaign slush funds as elected officials, and many are too tied into the political establishment to embarrass their party leaders, much less prosecute them.

If someone from the FBI or justice department happens to read this blog, they will know it's time to start taking on statehouse corruption in Mississippi. If something isn't done about this, the federal government will have lost its credibility as a force to take on public corruption. And that won't be good for anyone except that den of thieves in Jackson.