Hood, Barbour scrutinized over donations

As two of Mississippi’s top statewide officials sought re-election, they accepted thousands of dollars from campaign contributors who are earning millions by working for the state or trying to.

Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood accepted $75,000 in 2007 from a Texas attorney poised to earn a paycheck if the state is successful in its case against drug companies, according to a review of campaign finance records. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour took nearly the same amount in 2006 and 2007 from Hurricane Katrina contractors that have repeatedly won work from agencies he oversees.

Both insist that political considerations don’t factor into the selection process. And the contributions are perfectly legal in Mississippi, where there are reporting laws but few limits on donations.

Ethics watchdogs say the state needs tougher laws to prevent the appearances of conflict. But political analysts blame a privately funded campaign finance system that has become much more expensive.

“There has to be an effort to avoid any (conflict), but I think it’s inevitable that individuals who have an interest in accessing an official are those that are going to contribute,” said Richard Forgette, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi.

Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said the rising expense of campaigns makes it “awfully hard to turn down legitimate money just because there may be a little too close of a relationship with the business and person giving.”