The latest guilty plea in the ongoing Mississippi Beef Processors scandal lays bare a fundamental weakness in Mississippi campaign finance law – a weakness that creates a tenuous line of demarcation between a legal campaign donation and a bribe.

All told, Moultrie and other Facility Group executives gave Musgrove and the Democratic Governors Association a total of $95,000, according to federal prosecutors, after winning the beef plant contract. The beef plant’s failure left Mississippi taxpayers holding the bag on $55 million in state loan guarantees.

Mississippi law bans corporate campaign contributions in excess of $1,000. Yet under federal and state law, Musgrove violated no laws in accepting those donations regardless of the stated intent of Moultrie and his corporate allies. Nothing in the plea suggests Musgrove knew the money was obtained illegally.

The donations from the Facility Group’s corporate cabal make a mockery of the $1,000 corporation donor limits. But the truth is that such wink-and-nudge skirting of the state’s dishwater weak campaign finance laws happen every day involving politicians from both parties.

Musgrove is not accused of any wrongdoing, but Moultrie’s guilty plea comes less than three months before voters are set to decide whether Musgrove, a Democrat, or Republican Roger Wicker will fill the Senate seat vacated by Trent Lott. The election is Nov. 4.

If the Justice Department has evidence of wrongdoing on Musgrove’s part regarding the beef plant, it should act on it expeditiously. But if the feds don’t have a case against Musgrove, that should be made clear as well.

Clarion Ledger Opinion