JACKSON, Miss. - Despite recent popular opinion, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood says no elected official in his state is more concerned with the state of campaign finance laws.
Criticized by federal prosecutors for his close relationship with one of his trial lawyer contributors, Hood said he has been urging the state's Legislature to update its system every year since 2004 -- his first in office.
"Despite the recent attacks on my character and innuendo about my honesty in regard to the campaign contributions which I have accepted, I am the only current statewide elected official who has consistently called for meaningful campaign finance reforms," said Hood, who received the most votes of any candidate for a statewide office in November's general election.
"Since my election in 2003, I have always sought these changes. Rather than level attacks at me for following the law as it exists presently, my critics would be better advised to join me in pushing for these reforms."
Newspaper editorials and talk radio hosts have been on Hood's case in recent months, and federal prosecutors say indicted trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs and Hood cultivated a "remarkably close relationship" during litigation against insurance companies after 2005's Hurricane Katrina.
Scruggs is charged with contempt for allegedly violating a Dec. 2006 order from a federal judge that told Scruggs to return insurance documents obtained through a pair of sisters who worked at E.A. Renfroe that were related to victims of Katrina to the attorneys of the company and State Farm Insurance Cos.
Instead, Scruggs gave them to Hood, who had sued five insurance companies -- including State Farm -- over their handling of Katrina claims. Renfroe was working with State Farm, which has since settled a lawsuit against Hood, on the claims.
In the indictment against Scruggs, the prosecutors said Scruggs gave Hood $44,000 for his campaigns. State Farm claimed Scruggs and Hood were teaming up on it.
A recent statement from the Mississippians for Economic Progress says Scruggs, admitted felon Joey Langston and attorney David Nutt gave $400,000 to Hood through the Democratic Attorneys General Association.
Langston, formerly an attorney from Booneville, recently admitted to trying to bribe a judge in a dispute over attorneys fees in which he represented Scruggs, who has been indicted on similar charges in another attorneys fees dispute.
Langston's firm has directly given more than $100,000 to Hood's two campaigns, according to Hood's defeated opponent in the November election. The MFEP says Langston also gave $100,000 to the DAGA in 2003, a contribution joined by $50,000 from David Nutt of Nutt & McAlister, a firm with financial stakes in Scruggs' Katrina litigation.
The next day, the DAGA gave $150,000 to Hood's campaign.
In 2007, the MFEP says, according to IRS reports, the DAGA gave contributions of $150,000 and $250,000 to Hood. Langston had given $100,000 to the association, and Scruggs had given $300,000.
Other law firms given state contracts by Hood gave a total of $220,000.
Langston was given contracts by Hood to pursue litigation against MCI (resulting in $14 million in attorneys fees) and Eli Lilly (Langston was fired after pleading guilty, and Hood said he would not pursue state charges because of a conflict of interest that existed from Langston's state work).
Hood's recommendations for campaign finance laws include:
-Contributions sent through a political action committee at the candidate's direction should be considered direct donations to the candidate and be reportable as such;
-Disclosure of sources giving to "soft money" political advertising by special interest groups;
-Candidates should disclose the name of any individual offering loans or extending credit and be required to report how the money was used; and
-Electronic reporting of donations and expenditures by state candidates that exceeded $75,000 in a calendar year.
"It's an issue of fairness, honesty and integrity -- and it is incumbent upon all individuals, all parties, all organizations, including the media, to practice those words," Hood said.