Secretary of State Watson takes issue with Governor Reeves’ veto of campaign finance enforcement change

SB 2306 had unanimous support in both the Mississippi House and Senate. 

On April 21, 2022, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves vetoed Senate Bill 2306, which sought to transfer the authority of the Mississippi Ethics Commission to assess a civil penalty against any candidate or political committee for failure to file a report to the Secretary of State.

Authored by State Senator Jeff Tate, Senate Bill 2306 would have also deleted the provisions that provide for a hearing for a candidate or political committee before the State Board of Election Commissioners. The bill allowed for an appeal procedure for those candidates who are assessed a civil penalty by the Secretary of State.

In the past, the authority to assess campaign finance civil penalties has rested with the Secretary of State’s Office. In 2017, the Mississippi Legislature transferred the penalty assessment authority to the Ethics Commission.

Secretary of State Michael Watson said that while this was done with the best intentions, the transfer of authority has created more problems than solutions.

Beginning in 2017, the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s Office 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,” Secretary Watson said. 

Watson said that if Governor Reeves had consulted with the Ethics Commission or his 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,” Watson stated.

You can read the full text of S.B. 2306 below.

Senate Bill 2036 by yallpolitics on Scribd

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