The Jackson Free Press doesn't often say, "we told you so," even if we did. But after the news cycle of the last week, in which unreported PAC activity in the U.S. Senate race has made national news, it's hard to resist. We have been reporting on problems with political action committees for years—from former Gov. Haley Barbour's involvement with nursing home PACs a decade ago to the shadowy groups that fund Jackson mayoral candidates while ignoring laws that require timely and full reporting of both donors and expenditures.
Some people might think the JFP is just being a pain when we harp on these PAC issues—but the news cycle surrounding Bishop Ronnie Crudup's All Citizens for Mississippi PAC proves exactly why it matters so much.
Crudup says he raised $200,000 to help Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran. His PAC ran print and broadcast ads in support of Cochran and strongly implied that Chris McDaniel was a racist. That's not actually the part we're concerned about: Whether or not Sen. McDaniel has a race problem is a question for another day.
The problem is that the same hubris that infects almost every election we cover locally about not needing to tell voters who is behind the PACs, and thus paying for the ads, seemed to be present in this PAC, which both registered with the FEC late in the game and, to date, has not provided a list of expenditures it made, even though federal law required that they be reported before the runoff election in 24-hour reports.
Voters, thus, cannot judge for themselves why the PAC is supporting a candidate, or who is funding it and benefitting from it. For instance, the JFP exposed years back that the Better Jackson PAC, which ran scary crime ads about Jackson in support of then-candidate Marshand Crisler, was actually funded by supporters and architects of the controversial Two Lakes project. It wasn't about crime.
In this year's mayoral election, Citizens for Decency rebroadcast videos that then-candidate Tony Yarber had posted on YouTube, but without filing any reports to show who was behind the effort.
When PACs don't reveal themselves, we can't know why they're supporting a candidate. And even more scary, we suspect strongly that one party may pass money through a serious of PACs and political strategists in order to keep voters of the other party from knowing that candidate could be beholden to them. One national commentator called this the "PAC daisy chain," and it should scare all of us.
We doubt seriously that McDaniel will overturn this primary result. Regardless, it is incumbent on all of us to demand that PACs and other political operatives operate in the open. We must hold them accountable and demand that state and federal officials do the same.
It's not voter ID that endangers Mississippi election integrity; it is the money and how hard some folks work to keep it hidden.