Miss. Insurance Commissioner Candidates’ Money Difficult to Trace

February 13, 2008

Republican Mike Chaney said he spent around $1 million to win the Mississippi insurance commissioner’s race in 2007.

“It’s obscene to spend that much money on an election for a job that pays less than $100,000 a year,” Chaney said, “and you try to be impartial and you know much of the money comes from the business side.”

But it’s not always easy to find out where candidates get their campaign money. Even they have difficulty tracking the funds.

Chaney estimates that almost half his money came from the Republican Party. The party reports its contributions, distributing the funds among candidates. It is impossible to say whose donations went to whom.

Another issue is funding for advocacy ads, which played a major role in the insurance commissioner’s race. The advertisements don’t tell viewers which candidates to support, so the contributions for those ads don’t have to be reported.

In the insurance commissioner’s race, groups ran advocacy ads that attacked the candidate they wanted to defeat.

Stop Lawsuit Abuse in Mississippi Inc., attacked Chaney’s opponent, Democrat Gary Anderson, the weekend before the Nov. 6 general election. A group called Mississippians for Fair Elections attacked Chaney.

Chaney said his campaign, through media contacts, traced funding for the Fair Elections ads to attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs. Scruggs had earlier acknowledged giving the group $250,000 to run attack ads against Anderson’s opponent in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary, incumbent Commissioner George Dale.

Dale lost to Anderson in the primary and blamed the attacks for his defeat after 32 years in office.

Anderson said after the primary that his polls showed election funding from the insurance industry was the biggest issue in the commissioner’s race. Dale never made a secret of the fact that insurance companies contributed to his campaigns.

Both Chaney and Anderson pledged to eschew insurance industry funding, but Chaney said he did accept money from insurance agents and their companies. Because of Mississippi’s weak campaign reporting laws, the candidates have to be taken at their word.

Chaney believes he has a solution to the campaign funding issue – at least in the insurance commissioner’s race. He said the commissioner should be appointed rather than elected. He said he plans to push for that change.

Mississippi is one of only 11 states that elect insurance commissioners, as does the Virgin Islands. In every other state, the commissioner is appointed.

“I truly believe that we need to take politics out of the commissioner’s office,” Chaney said. “I don’t think I have wavered on that a lot. I feel real strongly about it. The problem is, if the wrong person is elected, it could be bad for the consumer.”

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