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Secret money shouldn't influence elections

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
April 11, 2004
When the subject turns to spending money in an attempt to influence the outcome of elections or legislation, I am from the school of journalism that teaches full disclosure. Just show me from where the money came and let me decide for myself what I think about it.
In times past, I have written editorials and columns defending, for example, the U.S. of Chamber of Commerce's belief that it did not have to disclose the specific sources of money it spent in Mississippi lobbying for tort reform. State law should require such disclosure.
Reading some of the stories that made news last week, I was also captivated by the irony of what happened at the Pearl River Resort. Longtime employees were being laid off in a downsizing of the Silver Star and Golden Moon's table games. The casinos said they are adding slot machines because gamblers use them more. Slot machines, I am told, also offer better odds for the house than table games and require fewer attendants.
I use the word irony because of another story involving the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and three other Indian tribes who, collectively, paid a Washington lobbyist named Jack Abramoff and a business associate more than $45 million over the past three years this according to The Washington Post.
The tribe had money to pay, just not to the fired employees.
In all fairness, I should point out that later in the week, Chief Phillip Martin stood by his Washington lobbyist and challenged what he called the misleading reporting of The Post. The chief said he was unaware that any laws were violated and denied he ever said the Choctaws would not cooperate with an investigation called for by U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo.
Now, here's where it gets a little, excuse the pun, dicey. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians runs its own nation. The U.S. government agreed to that when it took most of the traditional Native American lands away and put Indian tribes on reservations. I have great respect for the economic engine built by the Choctaw tribe that churns out profits for its members and has immeasurably improved their quality of life.
But if Indian tribes are spending money on behalf of certain candidates, or to lobby the U.S. Congress or federal agencies, then what they are spending should be publicly disclosed. Same with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Then news broke that the U.S. Chamber has hired Capitol Resources, a Jackson-based lobby firm that employs two nephews of Gov. Haley Barbour, to push for civil justice reform. The Chamber's legal arm also hired former state Sen. Steve Seale, who worked for U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, and Buddy Medlin, the second-highest-paid lobbyist in Mississippi in 2003, to represent its interests.
Why it didn't hire the highest-paid lobbyist in Mississippi Meridian's own Beth Clay was not disclosed.
Oh, and did I mention that Capitol Resources' spokesperson was a former communications director for former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. Bipartisanship is good.
The Haley Barbour nephews are Henry Barbour and Austin Barbour, both of whom worked on Haley Barbour's successful campaign last year.
I don't think there's anything wrong with political operatives making a living, when what they're paid to lobby governments is publicly disclosed.
All of this is coming up against this backdrop: The state House has approved a campaign finance bill requiring disclosure. The House and Senate have until late this month to agree on a final version of a bill.
The Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information, the Mississippi Press Association and Common Cause are among the groups lobbying to require more disclosure of campaign funding.
Full disclosure is good. Secret money should never be allowed to influence elections.