BY BOBBY HARRISON
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON - Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck filed an amended campaign finance report with the Secretary of State's office late Tuesday afternoon detailing the retirement of a loan she received from wealthy Pascagoula trial attorney Richard Scruggs.
Tuck has come under fire in recent weeks for refusing to reveal the source of $510,000 in loans her campaign received during the final month of her successful 1999 bid for lieutenant governor.
Scruggs had said in late June that he was the source of the loan, and said at the time that he had urged the lieutenant governor to make that fact public.
Tuck had said previously that she had met all campaign finance reporting requirements an had refused to divulge the source of the loan, which represented about 30 percent of her total funds raised during the 1999 campaign.
She reiterated that claim again late Tuesday in a written statement after filing the addendum.
"Let me emphasize that my campaign has previously reported what the law requires,'' she said. "To serve the public interest, I am taking extraordinary steps to lay these questions to rest so we can focus on the real issues.''
Others disagreed about whether she had followed the law, pointing out that the state statute required all contributions and expenditures of $200 or more to be reported.
Dick Johnson, president of Mississippi Common Cause, which supports full disclosure of campaign contributions, said in June, "The intent of campaign finance laws is to allow the public to know where a candidate's money comes from and where money goes.''
The amended campaign finance report filed Tuesday revealed that in 1999 Scruggs actually signed as the guarantor on two loans totaling $550,0000.
Of that amount, Tuck put $510,000 in her campaign fund in October and November of 1999 and maintained $40,000 for personal use.
During 2000, according to the amended report, Tuck paid $50,000 from her campaign finance fund toward the $550,000 loan. Later, in August 2000, "Tuck's name was removed from the ($550,000) note'' at Tupelo-based BancorpSouth and Scruggs began to pay on the loan. In July, 2002 Scruggs finished paying off the loan.
Since Scruggs paid off the loan, Tuck has made payments to him of $50,000 on May 2, $100,000 on June 25 and $481,117 on July 8 to completely pay off the loan, according to the amended report.
Including 6 percent interest, Tuck paid $681,117 to pay off the loan.
Of that amount, according to the report, $50,000 was paid to BancorpSouth and the rest to Scruggs after he assumed the loan from the bank.
Of the amount paid by Tuck, all but $51,629 came from her campaign finance funds. The $51,629, according to the amended report, was paid personally by the lieutenant governor to retire the personal loan of $40,000, plus interest.
Tuck's most recent campaign finance report, filed June 10 with the Secretary of State s office, showed that she had about $1 million in cash on hand. Some of those funds apparently were used to pay off the loan to Scruggs. The next campaign finance reporting deadline for candidates seeking office this year is Thursday.
Tuck switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party late last year and is unopposed in her party primary. But three Democrats are vying to win the nomination and challenge her in the November general election.
Tuesday's amended report marks the first time that expenditures from the Tuck campaign to Scruggs to retire the debt have been officially reported to the Secretary of State. It became obvious, though, when Scruggs announced that he loaned her the money that the campaign was paying off the debt.
A previous campaign finance report had shown the campaign making an expenditure of money to Tuck. But Tuck, based on the amended reports, was then paying that money to Scruggs.
Robert Siegfried, a spokesman for Scruggs, reiterated Tuesday that Scruggs "had always been a proponent of disclosing the loan'' and felt compelled to do so in June when public scrutiny of the transaction intensified.
Tuck added in the written statement that she would support next year legislation to ensure "clear and concise rules for campaign finance reporting.''
In a June letter sent to the Sun Herald newspaper, which filed a lawsuit against Tuck to try to force her to divulge the source of the loans, Secretary of State Eric Clark said he believed the law was clear that all contributions and expenditures of more than $200 must be reported. The law defines a loan as a contribution.
Tuck also stressed that the loan did not influence her decisions as lieutenant governor. In reality, Tuck in late 2002 was a strong proponent of changes in the civil justice system opposed by Scruggs. In previous years, though, she had come under fire from the business community for not getting those proposed changes out of committee and onto the floor of the Senate for a vote.