Every time Jackson has a city election, the Jackson Free Press news team spends the last week or so following the money, trying to track down shadowy, unregistered or unreported, groups that are either funding the candidates, paying for last-hour attack ads and, usually, lining up for payback and contracts.
The problem isn't so much that contractors, engineers and developers fund their favorite candidates; they have the right to donate. The problem is when there are clear efforts to hide the backers and helpers from public view. One way this is done is by simply ignoring laws that require campaign donors and vendors to be revealed to the public in advance of the election.
At the time of this writing, for instance, a shadowy PAC called Citizens for Decency has yet to file paperwork revealing who paid for an attack ad using an embarrassing video of Councilman Tony Yarber. In another example, while doing that investigation, the JFP learned Monday that a group of prominent conservative lobbyist and campaign operatives were placing his television ads and being paid 15 percent of all the costs—but without the Republic Group being named in his campaign reports. In another instance, the ENI PAC gave too little information to easily ascertain who it was spending his money with and on behalf of which campaign (it apparently gave to both and more to Yarber).
Every election, we make a huge deal about this PAC problem—which results in little if an enforcement of the law and a lot of old-school politicking that hurts the entire process. This cycle, many residents are seeing how an unreported PAC can actually hurt both candidates in the case of Citizens for Decency but without bothering to reveal its own identity and funders.
Jackson residents need to work on this transparency crisis between elections to be ready for the next one. Speak out, regardless of who you voted for. Demand that our elected officials be transparent immediately. Tell the secretary of state to enforce the laws. And demand that state legislators strengthen sunshine laws, not ignore them in their own interests.
Meantime, the Jackson Free Press pledges to begin a transparency project to both test the laws and put our elected officials on notice that this is unacceptable. We will also continue investigating these shadowy PACs and report the findings as we can. We will monitor who gets what contracts and how that tracks with who donated to certain campaigns. We will also help citizens have access to the tools of transparency and be able to help "follow the money."
Please help us clean up elections in Jackson and the state. The public has the right to know.