MSU may have violated political policy, ethics questioned

Mississippi State University officials may have violated the institution’s policy on political activities related to promotional materials for the university president’s former boss, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, a candidate for re-election amid a heated primary election.

Multiple parts of the university policy on political activities appear to have been violated when MSU used taxpayer resources to publish and distribute photos and a news release about Cochran, an incumbent wanting a seventh term.

Cochran’s campus visit Feb. 19 involved sharing with about 30 students his experience crafting the $956 billion farm bill signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier that month. Of course, public universities have academic freedom to expose students to elected officials and politicians. However, MSU’s political activities policy prohibits use of employees, equipment and services to assist political candidates.

“State or federal funds or other resources may not be utilized in any way, directly or indirectly, to advance or attempt to advance the cause of any candidate or political party,” page one of MSU’s policy states.

Cochran’s MSU visit happened between campaign stops that included events in Columbus, West Point, Tupelo, Oxford and Greenville.

The senator’s campaign staff posted photos of the other campaign stops but not the MSU visit. Instead, university staff in the Office of Public Affairs took professional photographs of the candidate interacting with students and wrote a glowing news release about his expertise on farm policy. Staff materials published on MSU’s website and then used a taxpayer-funded database of statewide news media contacts for distribution.

Daily Journal