Mississippi Code Title 23. Elections § 23-15-821. Personal use of campaign contributions by elected public office holders or candidates for public office prohibited

(1) The personal use of campaign contributions by any elected public officeholder or by any candidate for public office is prohibited.

(a) For the purposes of this section, “personal use” is defined as any use, other than expenditures related to gaining or holding public office, or performing the functions and duties of public office, for which the candidate for public office or elected public official would be required to treat the amount of the expenditure as gross income under Section 61 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 , 26 USC Section 61 , or any subsequent corresponding Internal Revenue Code of the United States, as from time to time amended.  “Personal use” shall not include donations to a political organization, or to a political action committee, or to another candidate.

(b) “Candidate” shall mean any individual described in Section 23-15-801(b) , and shall include any person having been a candidate until such time that the person takes office or files a termination report as provided in this section.

(c) “Officeholder” shall mean any elected or appointed official from the beginning of his or her term of office until that person no longer holds office.

(2) The following personal use expenditures are specifically prohibited under this section:

(a) Any residential or household items, supplies or expenditures, including mortgage, rent or utility payments for any part of any personal residence where a homestead exemption is claimed of a candidate or officeholder or a member of the candidate's or officeholder's family;

(b) Mortgage, rent or utility payments for any part of any nonresidential property that is owned by a candidate or officeholder or a member of a candidate's or officeholder's family and used for campaign purposes, to the extent the payments exceed the fair market value of the property usage;

(c) Funeral, cremation or burial expenses within a candidate's or officeholder's family;

(d) Clothing, other than items of de minimis value that are used for gaining or holding public office or performing the functions and duties of public office;

(e) Automobiles, except for automobile rental expenses and other automobile expenses related to gaining or holding public office or performing the functions and duties of public office;

(f) Tuition payments within a candidate's or officeholder's family other than those associated with training campaign staff or associated with an officeholder's duties;

(g) Salary payments to a member of a candidate's family, unless the family member is providing bona fide services to the campaign.  If a family member provides bona fide services to a campaign, any salary payments in excess of the fair market value of the services provided is personal use;

(h) Nondocumented loans of any type, including loans to candidates;

(i) Travel expenses except for travel expenses of a candidate, officeholder or staff member of the officeholder for travel undertaken as an ordinary and necessary expense of gaining or holding public office, or performing the functions and duties of public office or for attending meetings or conferences of officials similar to the office held or sought, or for an issue the legislative body is or will consider, or attending a state or national convention of any party.  If a candidate or officeholder uses campaign contributions to pay expenses associated with travel that involves both personal activities and activities related to gaining or holding public office or performing the functions and duties of public office, the incremental expenses that result from the personal activities are personal use, unless the person(s) benefiting from this use reimburse(s) the campaign account within thirty (30) days for the amount of the incremental expenses;  and

(j) Payment of any fines, fees or penalties assessed pursuant to Mississippi law.

(3) Any expense that reasonably relates to gaining or holding public office, or performing the functions and duties of public office is a specifically permitted use of campaign contributions.  Such expenditures are not considered personal use expenditures and may include, but are not limited to, the following expenditures:

(a) The defrayal of ordinary and necessary expenses of a candidate or officeholder, including expenses reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held or sought to be held;

(b) Campaign office or officeholder office expenses and equipment, provided the expenditures and the use of the equipment can be directly attributable to the campaign or office held;

(c) Donations to charitable organizations, not-for-profit organizations or for sponsorships, provided the candidate or officeholder does not receive monetary compensation, other than reimbursements of expenses, from the recipient organization;

(d) Gifts of nominal value and donations of a nominal amount made on a special occasion such as a holiday, graduation, marriage, retirement or death, unless made to a member of the candidate's or officeholder's family;

(e) Meal and beverage expenses which are incurred as part of a campaign activity or as a part of a function that is related to the candidate's or officeholder's responsibilities, including meals between and among candidates and/or officeholders that are incurred as an ordinary and necessary expense of seeking, holding or maintaining public office, or seeking, holding or maintaining a position within the Legislature or other publicly elected body;

(f) Reasonable rental or accommodation expenses incurred by an officeholder during a legislative session or a day or days in which the officeholder is required by his or her duties to be at the Capitol or another location outside the officeholder's county of residence.  Such rental or accommodation expenses shall not exceed Fifty Dollars ($50.00) per day, if the officeholder receives per diem, or One Hundred Ninety Dollars ($190.00) per day, if the officeholder receives no per diem.  Any expenses incurred under this paragraph (f) must be reported as an expenditure pursuant to this section;

(g) Communication access expenses, including mobile devices and Internet access costs.  Examples of communication access expenses include, but are not limited to, the following:  captioning on television advertisements;  video clips;  sign language interpreters;  computer-aided real-time (CART) services;  and assistive listening devices;

(h) Costs associated with memberships to chambers of commerce and civic organizations;

(i) Legal fees and costs associated with any civil action, criminal prosecution or investigation related to conduct reasonably related to the candidacy or performing the duties of the office held.

(4) Upon filing the termination report required under Section 23-15-807 , any campaign contributions not used to pay for the expenses of gaining or holding public office or performing the functions and duties of public office shall:

(a) Be maintained in a campaign account(s);

(b) Be donated to a political organization, or to a political action committee, or to another candidate;

(c) Be transferred, in whole or in part, into a newly established political action committee or ballot question advocate;

(d) Be donated to a tax-exempt charitable organization as that term is used in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 , 26 USC Section 501 , or any subsequent corresponding Internal Revenue Code of the United States, as from time to time amended;

(e) Be donated to the State of Mississippi;  or

(f) Be returned to a donor or donors.

(5) Any candidate for public office or any elected official who willfully violates this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punished by a fine of One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00) and by a state assessment equal to the amount of misappropriated campaign contributions.  The state assessment shall be deposited into the Public Employees' Retirement System.  No fine or assessment imposed under this section shall be paid by a third party.

(6) Any contributions accruing to a candidate's or officeholder's campaign account before January 1, 2018, shall be exempt and not subject to the provisions of this section.  All exempt contributions must be designated as exempt on all reports filed with the Secretary of State pursuant to the provisions of this chapter.

(7) The Mississippi Ethics Commission shall issue advisory opinions regarding any of the requirements set forth in this section.  When any officeholder or candidate requests an advisory opinion, in writing, and has stated all of the facts to govern the opinion, and the Ethics Commission has prepared and delivered the opinion with references to the request, there shall be no civil or criminal liability accruing to or against any officeholder or candidate who, in good faith, follows the direction of the opinion and acts in accordance with the opinion, unless a court of competent jurisdiction, after a full hearing, judicially declares that the opinion is manifestly wrong and without any substantial support.  No opinion shall be given or considered if the opinion would be given after judicial proceedings have commenced.

All advisory opinions issued pursuant to the provisions of this subsection (7) shall be made public and shall be issued within ninety (90) days of written request.  The request for an advisory opinion shall be confidential as to the identity of the individual making the request.  The Ethics Commission shall, so far as practicable and before making public, an advisory opinion issued under the provisions of on this subsection (7), make such deletions and changes thereto as may be necessary to ensure the anonymity of the public official and any other person named in the opinion.


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