Haven’t gotten your tickets yet to the Tate Reeves inaugural? Don’t sweat it.
A quarter-million dollars will still entitle you to the following:
Two seats to the Jan. 13 inaugural dinner.
nEight tickets to the inaugural breakfast the next morning, where you and your friends, after chowing down on eggs and grits, can get your picture taken with Reeves.
20 tickets to the inauguration ceremony that will secure for you and even more of your friends a good view of the swearing-in. You’ll have to tell, though, two of your buddies to buzz off before the inaugural reception, since you will only receive 18 tickets for that.
40 tickets to the inaugural ball, where you and twice as many of your friends (including the two who may have stopped sulking about being left out of the reception) get to see how well the new governor can dance.
Plus some gifts to commemorate the big day.
If $250,000 is too rich for your blood or you don’t have all that many friends, skip the dinner and for just $25,000 to $100,000, you can rub shoulders with Reeves at everything else.
Not only will you be assured a good time, but you will be helping the Republican set a record for inaugural excess, fresh after running one of the most expensive campaigns in Mississippi history.
Even better, no one has to know it.
That’s because Reeves’ inaugural committee was created, under the federal tax laws, as a 501(c)4 entity, or what is vaguely known as a “social welfare organization.” In Mississippi, 501(c)4s are not required to disclose who contributed to them or how their money is spent. Under a change pushed through by Republicans last year, the exemption even includes those groups with an obvious political purpose. This cloak of secrecy extends to what an inaugural committee does with any money it has left over.
Based on ticket prices and Reeves’ demonstrated prowess as a fundraiser, that could be a considerable amount. Phil Bryant, whose inauguration celebrations in 2012 and 2016 were also run through a 501(c)4, raised about $760,000 for his second inaugural. It would be safe to assume Reeves will hit more than $1 million, with probably several hundred thousand dollars left over.
What will he do with that money? Will it be used to promote his policies and agenda, and indirectly support his re-election in 2023? There’s nothing that would stop him from doing so.
Mississippi, unlike the federal government and some other states, makes a false distinction between money given for an inauguration and money given for an election.
In Kentucky and Louisiana, the two other states where gubernatorial inaugurations are being held this month, not only are the fundraising and spending activities of inaugural committees subject to greater public scrutiny, but also contributions are limited. In Kentucky corporations are not allowed to donate to inaugural committees, and in Louisiana individual contributions are limited to $5,000. These fellow Southern states seem to understand that there really is no difference between a big donor to a candidate’s campaign and a big donor to a candidate’s inauguration. Both are looking to buy access and possibly other favors.
It doesn’t matter how fine a cut of beef is being served at dinner, no one gives $250,000 for a two-day party without expecting something in return.
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, is one of the leading advocates for transparency on political-related fundraising and spending. He says he has no problem, and he thinks most others don’t either, with raising private funds to pay for inauguration celebrations.
“But that money needs to be disclosed, and that money needs to be limited to activities associated with the inaugural,” Blount said.
He said the simplest way to do this would be to classify inaugural committees as political committees, requiring them to itemize and regularly report their contributions and expenditures under the state’s campaign finance laws.
That way, the public could know who is bankrolling the inauguration and for how much, then draw its own conclusions as to why that might be.
As the law stands now, don’t expect the Reeves’ folks to volunteer the names of their $250,000 donors. To get that information, someone will either have to stalk the event or fork out a quarter-million dollars, too.
Ninety-nine percent of the people in this state can’t afford that. Many of them would be doing well to come up with the $50 for a general admission ticket to the inaugural dance.
Don’t expect that ticket, though, to get either the ear of the governor or any of that nice commemorative swag.