Jackson, Miss. (Mississippi Today) – Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s campaign has filed a complaint accusing his Republican primary challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel of “clear violations of Mississippi law” with his campaign money.
The secretary of state’s office, records show, has forwarded the complaint to the criminal investigations division of the attorney general’s office.
Hosemann’s complaint comes after a Mississippi Today article last month pointed out McDaniel’s financial reports for his campaign and a political action committee he runs leave voters in the dark about the source of hundreds of thousands of dollars and raise questions about whether donations violated state law.
McDaniel, through a campaign spokeswoman, said he has done nothing wrong, but will be returning a $237,500 contribution from what has been described as a “dark money” nonprofit corporation in Virginia that dumps millions of anonymously sourced funds into campaigns nationwide.
“We are confident we would prevail in court,” said McDaniel campaign spokeswoman Nicole Tardif. “However, to avoid a protracted legal fight with the establishment, we decided to refund the contribution.”
Tardif declined to answer several questions, but fired at Hosemann: “Delbert Hosemann has spent the past four years rewarding Democrats and hoping no one would expose him. So we aren’t surprised Delbert is obsessing over an alleged campaign finance issue to avoid talking about his abysmal, liberal record.”
Hosemann campaign adviser Casey Phillips in a statement said: “Chris McDaniel has been hiring Democrats to attack our conservative Lt. Governor and now we know he used illegal money to do it. Now that his actions are under scrutiny, he is backtracking, and has been forced to return the first $237,500 of his unreported money. Stay tuned as his illegally funded campaign based on a lie continues to unravel.”
Hosemann’s complaint includes claims McDaniel’s Hold the Line PAC and campaign violated Mississippi law that prohibits a corporation from donating more than $1,000 in a single year to a candidate or PAC. The PAC reported a $237,000 donation in August from the Alexandria, Virginia, nonprofit corporation American Exceptionalism Institute.
His Hold the Line PAC was the largest donor to McDaniel’s campaign, contributing $465,000 of the $710,000 McDaniel’s campaign reported raising last year.
Hosemann’s complaint includes prior attorney general opinions that say candidates cannot lawfully conceal contributions by forming separate accounts to divert money, and that contributions by a corporation “cannot be cleansed of its corporate status by first flowing through a PAC.”
The complaint also notes Hold the Line has reported it raised large amounts of money a year before McDaniel legally registered it with the state and that it failed to report the sources of hundreds of thousands of dollars. State law requires a PAC to file a statement of organization within 48 hours of receiving more than $200 in donations, and to file periodic reports of the sources of donations.
McDaniel registered his PAC with secretary of state in June of 2022. But Hold the Line’s first finance report showed it had a cash balance for the end of 2021 of $473,962. After questions from Mississippi Today, McDaniel said the PAC made a “clerical error,” and the PAC filed an amended report. But the amended report still showed a cash balance for 2021 — the year before it was created — of $236,981, as did a third amended report the PAC filed that same day last month.
“Regardless of which dollar amount is correct, if either, the PAC never reported the source(s) of those funds,” Hosemann’s complaint reads.
McDaniel, who has in the state Senate vocally called for campaign finance reform and transparency of the sources of political money, when asked in February about the large irregularities in his PAC’s reports, said he knows little about the finances of his PAC or campaign. He said reporting issues were “a clerical error.”
He deferred questions to the Rev. Dan Carr, a pastor and political consultant from Gulfport listed as treasurer for the Hold the Line PAC. Carr, mostly by text messages, gave a series of confusing and conflicting statements that never explained what the clerical error was, or the source of the large amount of unaccounted for donations to Hold the Line.
In a letter referring Hosemann’s complaint to the attorney general’s criminal investigations division, Kyle Kirkpatrick, assistant secretary of state for the elections division notes, “our office has no criminal investigative authority nor prosecutorial authority.”
“We defer to the Attorney General’s Office for enforcement,” the letter said. Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
McDaniel previously and campaign spokeswoman Tardif on Thursday said that despite Mississippi’s law banning corporate contributions over $1,000, it is legal because of U.S. Supreme Court rulings on federal campaign finance issues, including Citizens United v. FEC.
“… We were advised that a 501(c)4 is considered an individual under the law and, therefore not subject to Mississippi’s corporation campaign finance limits,” Tardif said in a statement.
Tardif also sent a statement from national Republican operative and campaign finance consultant Thomas Datwyler, who she said is compliance officer for Hold the Line PAC. It said, “All donors have been disclosed and are publicly available within the Hold the Line’s latest filing.”
Neither Tardif nor Datwyler addressed where at least $236,981 in unaccounted for cash in the PAC came from.
Datwyler has recently been in national news. After U.S. Rep. George Santos’ campaign treasurer resigned amid the candidate’s campaign finance problems, Santos said Datwyler would be taking over as treasurer. Datwyler’s attorney countered that he told Santos he would not be taking the post.
Hosemann, former secretary of state, is seeking a second and final term as lieutenant governor overseeing the state Senate. McDaniel is a four-term state senator who has run twice unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate.