Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Steve Simpson, the Hatch Act, and possibly a new issue

Steve Simpson's possible violation of the Hatch Act has been discussed previously here at Cottonmouth.  In fact, it may be a good idea to go back and read the prior posts before reading this one.  You can read them here, here, and most importantly, here.

In essence, the Hatch Act says you cannot be in an appointed office that oversees the use of any federal funds and run for elective office at the same time.  The concern with Steve Simpson was that he, as head of the Department of Public Safety, was in charge of federal funds as he was running for Attorney General.  Simpson said he wasn't in violation of the Hatch Act because he hadn't filed the necessary paperwork.

Well, some of the paperwork that has to be filed is a Statement of Organization for a Political Committee.  That gets filed with Secretary of State, and according to the Secretary of State's website, Simpson filed his on March 10, 2011.  That was well after Simpson had left his job as Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.  So he's all clear, right?  Not exactly.

According to the Mississippi Code Annotated § 23-15-801:

(b) “Candidate” shall mean an individual who seeks nomination for election, or election, toany elective office other than a federal elective office and for purposes of this article, an individual shall be deemed to seek nomination for election, or election:
(i) If such individual has received contributions aggregating in excess of Two Hundred Dollars ($200) or has made expenditures aggregating in excess of Two Hundred Dollars ($200) or for a candidate for the Legislature or any statewide or state district office, by the qualifying deadlines specified in Sections 23-15-299 and 23-15-977, whichever occurs first;

OK, so that clearly means that once Simpson received over $200 in contributions, he was a candidate. Keep that in mind for a second.

According to Mississippi Code Annotated § 23-15-803:
(a) Statements of organization. Each political committee shall file a statement of organization no later than ten (10) days after receipt of contributions aggregating in excess of Two Hundred Dollars ($200.00), or no later than ten (10) days after having made expenditures aggregating in excess of Two Hundred Dollars ($200.00).

So that means Simpson needed to file his aforementioned Statement of Organization no later than 10 days after he received a contribution. What happens if he didn't?

According to Mississippi Code Annotated § 23-15-811:
(a) Any candidate or any other person who shall willfully and deliberately and substantially violate the provisions and prohibitions of this article shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine in a sum not to exceed Three Thousand Dollars ($3,000.00) or imprisoned for not longer than six (6) months or by both fine and imprisonment.

So why am I bringing all of this up? Because on May 10, 2011, Simpson properly filed his Report of Receipts and Disbursements. And when he did so, he answered a question I asked back on February 7th: Who paid for the plane Simpson flew around the state on January 17, 2011 to announce his candidacy? Turns out, it was a $3,500.00 in-kind contribution from Ed Merkel, a New Orleans lawyer. (The report lists him as "Ed Merkel", a lawyer on Charles DeGaulle Drive in New Orleans, but it appears as though his name is actually Ed Markle.)

So, that's a $3,500 contribution 52 days before Simpson filed his Statement of Organization with the Secretary of State, and 29 days before he resigned as Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.

Hatch Act investigations are secret until a finding is made, so we don't know if anything is going on with that. But I do wonder if the Secretary of State will do anything about the state law issue.


Kingfish said...

The remedy is quit your job, which Simpson did. Feds will say he quit his job, case closed.

Boarzombie said...

I hate to disagree with you, KF, but the remedy under federal law is for the state agency to disgorge back to the feds the salary received or federal funds administered during the time period that coincided with the employment and prohibited candidacy. The State would be on the hook for the salary or federal funds between the time his candidacy began and the date of his resignation.

All that said, usually that's not what the feds ask for. They're usually satisfied with a resignation. So you're right there, KF.

mississippi citizen said...

Simpson was FORCED to resign when the the issue was raised, something that he did not want to do. If you remember he said the planned on keeping his job until after the primary. It wasn't until he got caught breaking the law that he resigned. Case closed.