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article imageIn Mississippi, retiring politicians can pocket campaign cash

By Megan Hamilton     Mar 21, 2016 in Politics
When it came time for former Mississippi Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck to shutter her campaign committee at the end of 2013, she took with her the $158,342 remaining in the committee account.
Prior to that she'd withdrawn more than $103,000 from the account near the end of 2007 and in early 2008, because she was going to work at Mississippi State University to serve as special assistant to the president, with an initial salary of $160,000 per year, The Associated Press reports.
And Tuck is in good company. A review by the Associated Press shows that of 99 elected Mississippi officials who have left office in recent years, as many as 25 may have pocketed more than $1,000 when closing their campaign accounts.
Additionally, four others besides Tuck, who now serves as vice president of campus services at Mississippi, took more than $50,000.
Who are the others?
• Former insurance commissioner George Dale, who withdrew $105,264.
• Johnny Stringer, former House Appropriations Committee chairmen. He withdrew $145,000.
• Eric Clark, Secretary of State and a former member of the House, who withdrew $55,181.
• Tommy Moffatt, a former state senator. He withdrew $50,407.
In Mississippi and four other states, these types of withdrawals are legal as long as state and federal income taxes are paid, and there's no restrictions on how it is spent, the AP notes. Efforts to end this practice have met with failure, with this year's proposal dying on the vine before even reaching a committee vote.
Some experts say this practice makes campaign contributions strikingly similar to bribes.
"Your office is a public office and you should not benefit from it," said Larry Noble, general counsel of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, which seeks to lessen the influence of money in politics. "You are personally gaining from your political office, and that is why they're giving to you. That's the fear."
Not all retiring lawmakers in the state received huge sums, MississippiWatchDog reports.
State Rep. Bobby Howell, (R-Kilmichael), for instance, had $27,742 remaining in his account. He says he's trying to wrap up debts with his campaign finance account before filing a termination report. He says he wants to spend some of his time helping to raise funds for a bell tower at the state's new veteran's cemetery. And he may also donate some of the leftover money to the cause.
"I don't know what the balance will be, but I'm going to do what the law says," Howell said. "I generally never pursued having a big account. I've been blessed that I've never had any expensive campaigns to run."
Perhaps the money should go to a charity, he said, adding that it's not something he's spent a lot of time thinking about over the years because his account has stayed small.
The other states that allow outgoing politicians to withdraw funds are North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Virginia, Daily Intelligencer notes.
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