Hosemann speaks (copy)

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann

JACKSON • A nonprofit created to fund Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s inauguration raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret donations, with some gifts as large as $20,000, recent tax filings show.

The organization, Advance Mississippi 2020, raised the money to pay for inauguration events early last year including a gala and prayer breakfast, according to IRS documents submitted last month. The group was dissolved later in 2020 with the leftover money given to several charities.

The documents are the latest example of how Mississippi politicians can use nonprofits to sidestep the usual restrictions and transparency required by campaign finance laws. Unlike many other states and the federal government, Mississippi has no rules around how politicians raise, spend and disclose cash for their inaugurations.

Hosemann spokeswoman Leah Rupp Smith said in a statement that transparency has been a “central tenet” of the lieutenant governor’s administration, including his push to webcast legislative proceedings.

“In accordance with the law, a totally separate nonprofit organization, with a separate board, raised money for the inauguration events, filed all appropriate tax returns, and distributed the remaining funds to the charities listed,” Smith said.

Earlier this year the Daily Journal reported on an inaugural nonprofit for Gov. Tate Reeves that raised more than $1.6 million for his inauguration festivities and transition to office. It received dozens of anonymous donations, some for $100,000 and more. The Republican’s nonprofit, For All Mississippi, also paid $150,000 to a business owned by the governor’s brother and sister-in-law.

Mississippi lawmakers advanced legislation this year that would have required more transparency around inauguration funds – at least for Reeves and future governors.

But the bill, after easily clearing the House, died without a vote in the Senate, the chamber Hosemann oversees as president.

So in Mississippi, unlimited and anonymous fundraising for inauguration festivities remains allowed. Other types of 501©4 nonprofits that participate in political activities in the state can do the same.

Hosemann’s inaugural nonprofit raised $368,049 from 2019 to 2020, according to the tax filings. Some $145,000 in donations from 2019 were not broken down by amount. In the nonprofit’s 2020 IRS filing, donations amounts were disclosed, though all identifying information such as names and addresses were kept secret.

Of 27 donations to the nonprofit ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 last year, three people gave the top amount, nine donated $10,000 and 11 handed over $5,000. The nonprofit spent money on advertising and promotion, fundraising, office costs, contract labor, and printing and publications. For the inauguration events themselves, the group reported spending $80,000 on meals and $6,000 on gifts.

Experts say political nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors leave the public in the dark, with no clues about what interests they may represent and how they may seek to influence the politician while in office. Political campaigns are required to disclose these basic donation and spending details in order to increase accountability and transparency around the process.

Many states and the federal government have also decided such transparency regulations should apply to inauguration fundraising. Louisiana, for instance, caps individual donations at $5,000 and inauguration donations and expenditures are revealed similar to a campaign finance report. Kentucky requires quarterly reporting, and anonymous donations over $100 are banned. Virginia mandates regular public reporting of donors, including special reports for large donations.

The Mississippi Legislature appeared interested in passing the state’s own inauguration funding regulations this past session. House Bill 1019 said Reeves and any future governor-elect would need to report inauguration financial information to the Secretary of State’s Office. The bill’s author, Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, had said he thought the bill should be amended to cover any politician who raises money for an inauguration.

“It’s a good government piece of legislation. People want to know who’s contributing to elected officials,” Lamar told the Daily Journal in January. “I really don’t know why we’ve never had anything on our books that would require this.”

But after clearing the House with only one vote against, the bill died in the Senate after it wasn’t brought up for consideration in the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee. The chairman of that committee, Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, said in March the bill was a casualty of a busy session, especially for his committee.

Smith, Hosmann’s spokeswoman and deputy chief of staff, noted the House bill was retroactive, meaning it would have required Reeves to report who gave to his 2020 inauguration nonprofit, not just who gives in the future. “Without retroactive provisions, such legislation will have more opportunity for a positive legislative outcome,” Smith said.

About half the money donated to the Hosemann nonprofit was ultimately given away to other charities, the filings show, including $10,000 to the Hosemann Family Autism Foundation.

Other entities that received leftover money from the inauguration were foundations for Mississippi State and Ole Miss, Friends of Children’s Hospital, Willowood Developmental Center, Foundation for Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Canopy Children’s Solutions, Magnolia Speech School.

Friends of Children’s Hospital, Friends of the Growing Tree and William Carey University.

LUKE RAMSETH is a Jackson-based reporter covering state government for the Daily Journal. Email him at lramseth@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @lramseth.

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