The Wicker for Senate campaign will file charges with the FEC against opponent Ronnie Musgrove for alleged violation of FEC finance regulations over a campaign commercial shot in Canton.
The commercial was shot on the grounds and inside a boardroom at the Madison County Courthouse on July 9. One issue over the commercial is whether the funding and participation of producers from the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee constitute a violation. However, that issue is compounded by whether the producers of the ad had proper written permission to film inside the courthouse.
According to County Administrator Donnie Caughman, the group had permission to shoot on the grounds of the historic courthouse, but not inside.
“They did not have permission to go inside the courthouse,” Caughman said. “They did not mention that.”
Jim Mabus with the Musgrove campaign coordinated the ad with the Canton Film Office, which in turn facilitated use of the Madison County Courthouse grounds through County Administrator Donnie Caughman. Executive Director Jo Ann Gordon with the Canton Film Office said that her group dealt only with Mabus and had no contact with any other group.
Mabus did not return two calls requesting comment for this story.
Caughman said that Canton Film Office Executive Director Jo Ann Gordon came to him with the request for the Ronnie Musgrove Campaign.
“Mrs. Gordon came to me and she showed me that they had proof of insurance, which we don’t normally require because we have liability coverage,” he said. “They wanted to film a commercial on the historic courthouse grounds.
“All she said was that it was the Ronnie Musgrove campaign,” he added.
Gordon said that the permission was in writing and that anything arranged in the courthouse was between the producers and other individuals.
“Our office only got permission to use the Madison County Courthouse grounds,” said Gordon. “We expressly discussed with them and I have it in writing that anything they did with anybody individually they had to get written permission.
“They come in and we qualify,” Gordon explained. “Our office facilitates production. We find out what their needs are and if it has anything to do with public space.
“I’m just angry we’ve been put in this position,” she added. “I don’t know whether it’s right or wrong from anybody. We didn’t do anything different than normal. We don’t care if it’s a commercial shoot or a major motion picture. We’re going to help facilitate film production in Canton, Mississippi.”
According to Jeff Tanner, Vice-President and Director with the Ridgeland based Eyevox, his company was hired as a “third party vendor” and helped shoot the commercial. Tanner says that due to the sensitive nature of political work he couldn’t comment further on who was or was not behind the commercial, but he added, “We were not hired by the Musgrove Campaign.”
In a conference call with members of the press on Tuesday Wicker attorney Ben Ginsberg said the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee had stepped over the line with the commercial and had violated election finance law.
“The way (Musgrove) is featured in the ads in a private shooting done only for this ad. That means number one; that there’s coordination between the campaigns and more importantly what this ad does is republish Musgrove campaign materials, and that republishing of Musgrove campaign materials is what causes the violation,” Ginsberg said.
Last week, the Musgrove campaign filed charges with the FEC against the Wicker campaign alleging “double dipping,” with Republican donors.
Austin Barbour, a Wicker campaign staffer said that since the beginning the Senators staff has been in contact with the National Republican Senatorial Committee Council and the FEC to be sure they remained in compliance with the law. According the Barbour, the FEC allowed for two election cycles in this case due to a runoff election that included former Congressman Ronnie Shows, who dropped out of the race.
“Ronnie Shows dropped out of the race after the first quarter and we quit taking the runoff cycle money,” Barbour said adding that the Wicker staff has “double checked and triple checked” to be sure that Wicker remained in compliance.
Ginsburg’s take on the Musgrove charge against Wicker was that it was a move meant to “divert attention.”
“It looked to me like it was filed because the DSCC knew they were caught on this one and wanted to put up something (to) divert from their own transgressions,” he said.