COLUMN: Questions Arise About McDaniel’s Honesty, Residency

Greenwood, Miss. (Greenwood Commonwealth) – There are a few issues in which I agree with Chris McDaniel.

Like him, I am disappointed that the Mississippi Senate, under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, has been an obstacle to restoring the initiative process that citizens had for three decades until the Mississippi Supreme Court killed it in 2021 over a technicality.

I also agree that the state’s regressively high sales tax on groceries should be cut, if not eliminated, although McDaniel goes too far in his tax-cutting ambitions by wanting to get rid of the personal income tax at the same time.

The money to operate state government has to come from somewhere. You either have to tax income or consumption, or, as is the current situation in Mississippi, tax some of both. It may sound great on the political stump to talk about slashing taxes, but if you go too far, eventually essential government services suffer.

What bothers me most, though, about McDaniel is that I don’t trust him.

During his Republican primary challenge to Hosemann, there has been a lot written and said about McDaniel’s apparent violation of state campaign finance laws.

This past week at the Neshoba County Fair, Attorney General Lynn Fitch was pressed about why she has not done more to investigate the complaints, filed by Hosemann, about the matter.
Hosemann, as a former secretary of state, knows a thing or two about Mississippi’s campaign finance laws. But it didn’t take an expert in the laws to conclude that McDaniel’s campaign wasn’t even close to following them.

His political action committee took in a $475,000 donation from a Virginia-based nonprofit corporation that doesn’t disclose its donors. Bad enough that McDaniel, who claims to champion greater disclosure on political contributions, was OK with hiding who was trying to bankroll his campaign. Even worse, the contribution was grossly over the legal limit — $474,000 over, to be exact.

McDaniel’s PAC eventually returned the money, but not before it had first funneled most of it to his campaign and got caught trying to obfuscate the money trail through incomplete and inaccurate campaign finance reports that McDaniel tried to blame on “clerical errors.”

That’s the thing about McDaniel and the folks who surround him. When things don’t add up, they either don’t answer the questions or they try to deflect them with nonsense.

Another example was recently provided by William Browning, a former Commonwealth reporter who now writes occasional freelance pieces and also posts some of his work to an online “newsletter” that he maintains.

Browning lives in Ellisville, the same small Jones County town where McDaniel claims to live. McDaniel’s state Senate bio lists 506 South Court St. as his home, and it’s also where he has been registered to vote since 2009.

There’s no question that McDaniel owns the residence. What Browning questioned is whether the legislator or anyone else ever stays there.

“In four-plus years I’ve never seen any activity at the home,” writes Browning. “Curtains are always drawn. No lights ever appear on. The backyard gazebo … looks abandoned.”

When Browning sent McDaniel some questions about the situation, the Republican’s campaign team responded that the house on South Court Street “remains occupied and central to the McDaniel family’s daily lives.” The campaign added that McDaniel and his family spend nights elsewhere at an undisclosed location because the house in Ellisville has black mold and poses a health risk to his two sons, but that the problem is being addressed by contractors.

“While renovations are underway to protect the health and safety of my children, our home is visited daily by my family,” McDaniel said in a statement provided by his campaign. “It remains our legal domicile, and we have no intent of ever abandoning our forever home.”

Being a good reporter, Browning didn’t accept all of that at face value. For one, he’s never seen any contractors or work being done at the house, which he frequently passes on his way to the neighborhood grocery. So he made a public records request for McDaniel’s water records from the town.

McDaniel’s water meter, according to Browning, had the same reading from December 2017 to February 2018, and then the account was closed for a year. It was reopened shortly after McDaniel announced in 2019 that he would be running for reelection to his state Senate seat, but the next four years showed little to no water consumption. In fact, for 34 months, from May 2020 through March 2023, the last month Browning looked at, the meter reading did not change.

Writes Browning: “I asked McDaniel’s campaign about this, pointing out that it seemed odd that such a small amount of water, if any, had been used at the address in years, especially since McDaniel claims the home is visited daily. His campaign did not respond.”

It also didn’t answer whether McDaniel’s “not forever home” is inside the district from which he was elected.

Those are not hard questions — unless, of course, you don’t want the answers to be known.

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