JACKSON • Gov. Tate Reeves would be required to publicly disclose who funded his inauguration festivities and how the money was spent under a bill that cleared a House committee this week.

House Bill 1019 says Reeves and any future governor-elect would need to report inauguration financial information to the Secretary of State’s Office, just as Mississippi politicians do with their campaign funds.

“It came to my attention that we are one of the few states that did not require disclosure of those receipts and disbursements,” said Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, the bill’s author.

The bill unanimously passed the House Apportionment and Elections Committee on Thursday. Its advancement follows recent stories in the Daily Journal and Clarion Ledger detailing how Mississippi does not regulate inauguration fundraising like many other states and the federal government.

Mississippi governors and other officials have instead long used 501©(4) nonprofits to fund their inauguration ceremonies, parties, and transition expenses – and donors to such nonprofits can be kept secret. Reeves raised $1.6 million worth of these secret donations for his inauguration festivities and other purposes, the Daily Journal reported last week.

Lamar – who has at times had an icy relationship with Reeves – said the legislation was not meant to target the current governor. The bill’s language specifically covers gubernatorial inauguration funds, but Lamar said he expects it will be amended to apply to any politician who raises money for inaugural activities. Both Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Attorney General Lynn Fitch raised money for inaugural nonprofits after they were elected in 2019.

“It’s a good government piece of legislation. People want to know who’s contributing to elected officials,” said Lamar, who leads the House Ways and Means Committee. “I really don’t know why we’ve never had anything on our books that would require this.”

The legislation would require governors to set up an inaugural fund, name a treasurer, and regularly report to state elections officials donation and expenditure information. It also includes language that would require Reeves’ 2020 inauguration nonprofit, For All Mississippi, to retroactively report donations and expenditures to the Secretary of State’s Office. The nonprofit has since dissolved.

Reeves’ nonprofit raised $1.6 million in secret donations – some for $100,000 or more, with dozens of others for at least $5,000, nonprofit filings show. Federal nonprofit laws do not require disclosure of donors. In addition, the nonprofit paid a company owned by Reeves’ brother and sister-in-law about $150,000 for services related to the inauguration.

A Reeves spokeswoman noted the nonprofit had “disclosed everything that is required,” and that the family company had done quality work putting together various events celebrating Reeves’ inauguration. Officials with the nonprofit and the governor did not respond to the Daily Journal’s inquiries last week about whether they would consider voluntarily turning over donor information, however.

“We have to report who we receive our funds from, and who we spend our funds on, and the same thing would be true then for inauguration funds,” said Rep. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, who leads the House’s election committee.

Luke Ramseth is a Jackson-based reporter covering the 2021 session of the Mississippi Legislature for the Daily Journal. Email him at lramseth@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @lramseth.

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