JACKSON • Mississippi lawmakers advanced legislation this week that would make it easier to find out who is donating campaign money to your mayor or county supervisor.

House Bill 718 would let the public search online for the campaign finance reports of local elected officials and candidates. As it stands now, those reports must be requested in-person from the county or city clerk, who may charge a fee to make copies.

Campaign finance reports show who donates money to politicians and what they spend it on.

The bill unanimously passed the House on Thursday with little discussion. It now heads to the Senate.

The bill’s author, Rep. Timmy Ladner, R-Poplarville, said the measure is all about government transparency and accountability.

“I mean, it’s a public record,” Ladner told the Daily Journal. “Why not give the public access to it?”

The legislation would require municipal clerks to forward the reports to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office, where state elections officials would post them online. Lawmakers and statewide elected officials are already required to post their reports online; they can be found at sos.ms.gov.

Ladner said it would be best to absolve local clerks of the responsibility of managing campaign finance reports for local officials and candidates.

“Politics are really, really local,” he said. “So if I go in there to ask for a report, whoever’s report I ask for knows about it within the hour. And it raises a bunch of questions.”

Secretary of State Michael Watson noted the change would require more work for his office. It would also cost more, because his office would have to sort through and post hundreds more reports than it already does with state officials and candidates.

“It’s doable, but in my opinion it (would be) kind of an unfunded mandate,” he said.

Municipal campaign season is getting underway, but it would not be impacted by this legislation, which, if it becomes law, would not go into force until July.

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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