Monday, September 22, 2014

The Best Government Money Can Buy

The state of Mississippi is throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at what it likes to call, “economic development.” Results are mixed, as Mississippi recently boasted the second highest unemployment rate in the nation while our poverty rate ticks upward. 

But someone is clearly benefiting from the state’s largesse. His name is John Correnti – and to no one's surprise, he’s a huge Republican contributor!

Correnti has been at the center of the mystery as to how Mississippi Silicon – a company that did not exist a few weeks before – wound up landing $25 million in state and local incentives.

According to, Correnti and his wife, Dawn, have given more than $100,000 to Mississippi politicians. Correnti’s companies have kicked in another $76,000 in political contributions. In return, Correnti and his companies have gotten over $200 million in state and local incentives. That's not a bad return on investment.

It's not just to the state’s Republican bigwigs – former Gov. Haley Barbour, Gov. Phil Bryant, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, and U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee – who have benefited. Substantial sums have also have gone to the state legislative and Congressional delegations. Each has been responsible for substantial funding opportunities for a bevy of Correnti projects – all of which financially benefited Correnti personally, or his companies. A search of Correnti and his companies on is illuminating:

  • Haley Barbour received $14,000 from Correnti in personal contributions. In 2011, Barbour ushered in legislation that gave Correnti’s SeverCorr – now Severstal Columbus – $85 million in local and state support. That’s just the tip of financial giving. Barbour received another $28,250 from companies associated with Correnti.
  • Phil Bryant received $5,000 from the Correntis. Companies associated with Correnti have been even more generous to Bryant over the course of his career, handing over $24,500. It is no coincidence that Bryant has been a public supporter of Correnti’s latest project: Mississippi Silicon, currently under construction in Tishomingo County. In fact, Correnti’s partner in the project, Ricardo Vicintin, President and CEO of Brazil’s Rima Industrial, credited Bryant with bringing Rima to Mississippi, something which happened only after Bryant took a junket to Brazil with the Mississippi Development Authority. As we have previously noted, Rima Industrial is currently under indictment in a Brazilian court for:
"falsification, counterfeiting (material and ideological) of financial documentation unlawfully used in the transportation and marketing of charcoal, in such manner that all the coal produced from illegal deforestation, and extracted from native forest, was transported and marketed as if it were originating from planted forest with the knowledge and support of the directors and managers of steel industry beneficiaries" as well as "the practice of environmental crimes, crimes against the public trust, money laundering and conspiracy to commit crimes."

  • Alan Nunnelee appears to have been a Correnti favorite, receiving $36,400 from Correnti and his wife dating back to his time in the state legislature. Nunnelee is currently sponsoring legislation that will allow the Tennessee Valley Authority to hand over to Yellow Creek Port 172 aces of federally-owned land. Correnti’s newest project, Mississippi Silicon, is adjacent to Yellow Creek Port. Sen. Thad Cochran introduced similar legislation in the Senate earlier this year.
  • Roger Wicker, who served in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2007 before taking his seat in the U.S. Senate, received a mere $4,500 from Correnti. He also received $7,500 from Navistar. Correnti has sat on that company’s board since 1994.
State legislators, including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, former state Sen. Charlie Ross, and the late state Sen. Terry Brown have been on the receiving end of the Correnti’s giving. In total, the four received $22,000 to help pursue their political aspirations.

  • Terry Brown, the former president pro tempore of the state senate, benefited from $10,000 in Correnti money. The Columbus native represented Lowndes County, the site of a much ballyhooed – but failed – 2011 Correnti project. The promised silicon metal purification and production facilities would have created an estimated 950 jobs. It was to be funded in part with a $75 million incentive package approved by the state legislature, along with $19 million in financial incentives from Lowndes County. A previous project, Severstal Columbus LLC, formerly known as SeverCorr Corporation, which, coincidentally donated $1,000 to Brown. The plant was successfully built by a team of entrepreneurs, including Correnti. It cost a reported $980 million to build and employs about 550 people. It was purchased in 2008 by Russian steel giant Severstal.
  • Charlie Ross, who served in the state legislature until 2007 and ran unsuccessful campaigns for U.S. Congress and lieutenant governor, received $9,000 from Correnti and his wife. He got another $6,250 from Nucor – a former Correnti company, and $1,000 from Severcorr.
  • Tate Reeves, who served as state treasurer before being elected lieutenant governor in 2011, only received $3,000 from Correnti. He got another $18,500 from companies who are or have been associated with Correnti.
But while Corretti’s generosity has helped his political allies – as well as his balance sheet – it hasn’t always paid off for those who hoped to benefit from his often-grandiose schemes.

In 2008, he broke ground on a steel rebar plant in Amory. That facility, which had promised hundreds of jobs, failed to materialize and left taxpayers there to foot the bill.

He later announced a silicon metal production facility in Lowndes County. That project ultimately became Mississippi Silicon in Tishomingo County, but not before the Mississippi Development Authority was on the hook for reimbursing Lowndes County $238,000 it spent trying to lure the Correnti project to Columbus.

As noted at the start of this article, Correnti and his companies have gotten a remarkable return on the investment they have made in Mississippi politicians. Truth is, they have done this in a number of states. For Correnti’s it’s not personal – it’s business. Perhaps we should not blame him for knowing how to leverage a few thousand of his own dollars, in return for millions of our own. And it is our own. Those are our tax dollars we send to Jackson, expecting they will be spent in good faith. 

The millions the state of Mississippi has given to Correnti and his companies have come out of our tax dollars. It’s our money, which could have gone to investments in education; expand health coverage to hundreds of thousands of Mississippians, or any one of hundreds of other more worthy efforts. The fault lies with our elected leadership. They are the ones that rewarded their political friends with our money.

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