Mississippi Legislators Vote for Corruption by Voting to Make All Government Contracts Secret

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Yes, you read that right. Granted, only one committee (so far and let’s make sure it stays that way). Alert reader Lance N threw the following link over the transom:

A Mississippi legislative committee voted Tuesday to adopt a new policy that makes all government contracts confidential.

The new law was created in response to a public record request from a local newspaper.

According to Mississippi Today, it filed the request to get information on a contract between the state and the nonprofit EdBuild, which is tasked with reviewing and potentially rewriting Mississippi’s Adequate Education Program. … Instead the committee adopted the new policy, making all contracts private.

The rule reads, “All contracts entered into by the House Management Committee shall be confidential and shall not be released to any person or entity, except as specifically directed by the House Management Committee only when the committee deems necessary for the execution of the contract.

Seems legit. As a sidebar, I’d like to note that the Committee’s new policy shows a pleasing characteristic of Republicans generally: They have the courage of their convictions. California Democrats only exempted Covered California exchange spending and contractors from their open records law, but Mississippi Republicans didn’t pussyfoot around: They exempted “All contracts”!

Mississippi Today, who requested the contract, gives more detail:

The state entered in to a $250,000 contract with the New Jersey-based nonprofit EdBuild in October. EdBuild is charged with reviewing and potentially rewriting the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the formula that dictates how much state money public schools get each year.

The public will be given its first chance to offer public comment on the funding formula at a one-hour session at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Capitol. All comments will be limited to three minutes.

Mississippi Today submitted a public records request for the contract to the House of Representatives on Oct. 12. House Clerk Andrew Ketchings told Mississippi Today the committee would have to vote whether to release the contract at its meeting.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, the committee was presented with and adopted the new policy.

Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, the chair of the committee, said the new policy would increase transparency by giving members of the House a way to review contracts.

Seems legit. Better yet:

A request to EdBuild for the contract was also not granted. A representative from the group said they had been asked to “refer these requests to the appropriate committees.”

In fact, even legislators aren’t being allowed to see the contract!

Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, told The Clarion-Ledger that he had attempted twice to read the agreement to no avail prior to the new policy. With its passage, he said he intends to try again.

No red flags there! Now, if I were a citizen planning to attend that session for public comment, I’d be mighty ticked off. Sometimes the people sitting with the nameplates in front of them actually pay attention, which is good, but public comment sessions also serve for activists to exchange information with each other, and even more to display their expertise to the attendant press, so that they become sources. But you can’t prepare for the session without basic information, and the contract is basic information. How can you comment on a proposal to spend state money when you don’t know what the deliverables are, or how contractor performance is to be evaluated?

Moreover, secret contracts are an open invitation to corruption. How do we know a clause in the contract doesn’t make a legislator’s family member a contractor? Or deliver business to cronies? We don’t, of course. And the presence of Rebecca Sibilia, EdBuild CEO and known associate of charter crook Michelle Rhee, is yet another red flag. (Walton and Gates-funded EdBuild is not the focus of this post, but when I was doing a lot more reviewing of state and local news, every time a charter story came up, I never knew whether to throw it in the Charter bucket, or the Corruption Bucket).

And it’s not like Mississippi doens’t have problems with corruption. From “Local Overweighting and Underperformance: Evidence from Limited Partner Private Equity Investments,” by Yael V. Hochberg Joshua D. Rauh (on the Chicago Fed’s site):

State-level corruption measures are obtained from Glaeser and Saks (2006). Glaeser and Saks (2006) derive corruption levels from the Justice Department’s “Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section,” which lists the number of federal, state and local public officials convicted of a corruption-related crime by state. They divide these convictions by average state population from the 1999 and 2000 Census to obtain an estimate of the state corruption rate per capita. Alaska ranks as the most corrupt state in their ranking, followed by Mississippi, Louisiana and South Dakota.

Bringing me to private equity. Suppose that the Mississippi State Legislature was able to keep secret any private equity contracts under its purview. That could make the work Yves did to expose limited partnership agreements in California difficult or impossible in Mississippi (see, for example, here, here, and here). No doubt that’s why the subject line in Lance’s email was: “The Nuclear Option for your CALPERS investigations.”

* * *

I’m not sure if there’s a good way for Naked Capitalism to bring pressure to bear on state legislators directly from random out-of-staters; I know that would not work in Maine; we’re touchy. For those in state, this story from Mississipipi gives the names of the legislators involved. And of course, if you have family or friends in Mississippi, let them know and encourage them to tell their legislators that they are firmly opposed.

My thought is that readers might wish to support Mississippi Today, who broke the story. You might send them email, or snail mail, at their contact page; your thoughts could then become the basis for a follow-on story, bringing pressure to bear in that way. Perhaps readers who are investors could craft verbiage in comments explaining how difficult it would be to invest in Mississippi’s ventures or financial vehicles, given the potential for corruption. Here is Mississippi Today’s contact information:

Mississippi Today
750 Woodlands Parkway, Suite 100
Ridgeland, MS 39157
601.533.4860

For questions or more information, contact Melissa Hederman at 601.613.4003 or mhederman@mississippitoday.org

Their contact form also includes a way to donate.

Thank you!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

26 comments

  1. Vatch

    only one committee (so far)

    Let’s hope it stays that way. Legislatures can do some really stupid and/or offensive things, but somethings the foolishness is only approved by a committee or a single house of the legislature, and is rejected by the full legislature. A famous example is the so-called “Indiana Pi Bill”:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana_Pi_Bill

  2. Berial

    Other things of note going on in MS. The state legislature is a SUPER majority of Republicans now. The Democrat you mention above has been raising as much hell as he can but with the discipline typical of Republican legislatures they are all lockstep with each other to prevent ANYTHING from getting in their way to do what they want.

    Also the MAEP ( Mississippi Adequate Education Program) has been underfunded according to it’s own formula for at least a decade and the LEGISLATURE is the one that set up the formula in the first place.

    Also Also: Historically there were Republican state legislature members that were pro-public education but a LOT of out of state ‘charter school’ money has been hitting the state for around a decade (a coincidence I’m sure) and now there are NONE that don’t support pushing public money to these charter schools.

    Finally, you can tell they didn’t give a shit about what the public thinks when they only gave one hour of comments and announced the whole thing just days before.

    1. Massinissa

      Its states like this that really make me appreciate gridlock. Georgia is dominantly Republican, but there were enough Democrats and dissident Republicans to derail a referendum that the Governor was supporting that was going to replace some failing (largely black) public schools with online charter schools.

      As for the Mississippi law, I could almost see this happening also in the largely Democratic controlled state. Its not as if Democrats have ever really been friends of transparency, despite their rhetoric.

    1. f f skitty

      feh.
      absolutely corrupt state representatives and cheaply bought legislative whores are alaska’s exclusive hallmark and stock in trade.

      influence peddlers in mississippi who bought this ruling overpaid by orders of magnitude no matter what it cost them.

      those cracker chumps are throwing their money away.

      1. ambrit

        Oh, do not underestimate the amounts of money that even a backwater state like Mississippi can yield if properly “squeezed.”
        Lower down I mention Chris Epps who plead guilty to bribery to the tune of almost $1.5 million. $800 million in contracts were involved in only one part of the state budget, amortized over a few years of course. I don’t think that “easy pay plans” are on offer though.

    2. ambrit

      Retrograde???
      If you mean plain old backwards, well, one must first make some sort of progress from which to retreat. Such a state of affairs in Mississippi is problematic at best.
      I might point out the fact of the “out of state” wife of an ex-President who “established” residency in upstate New York primarily to be “deeded” a Federal Senate seat. From there her career went “sideways and wideways.”

  3. Cat's paw

    This sounds about right.

    I had the great good fortune of growing up next door to Miss. One can learn instructive things about the organization, distribution, and concentration of power while coming of age in the deep south, if one is moderately attentive. Having one form or another of the sharp end of the stick pointed at one’s person offers a more advanced and accelerated learning experience. And there are just so many social and economic sharp sticks in the south! I guess the only real problem is one’s physical and mental well-being is easily deformed or destroyed in the process– ah well, shit happens.

    What’s nice though is the disregard for subtlety or nuance when it comes to willfully corrupt acts of power and injustice. One’s development needn’t be detained by a wasted period of wallowing in useless conspiracy theories b/c the networks and machinations of power are too opaque or covert to read.

    I remember when I came across the great 19th century Russian social novels in my early 20’s. What a revelation! There were actually humans on a different part of the earth who had endured similar sociopolitical maladies. Faulkner is the closest American culture will ever get to a Dostoevsky–no surprise, Faulkner was from Miss.

    Thanks for the heads-up and the contact info–I’ll drop them a line to offer a little support.

  4. Dan

    I remember doing research on outsourcing in Turkey a few years back and being flabbergasted that public contracts were secret in most cases. We ended up having to sweet talk officials to get any kind of data about contract terms and results… It felt very banana republic (and yes, they do grow bananas in Turkey!)

    I’m not sure whether Mississippi grows bananas too, but it’s sure starting to smell like it…

    1. Yves Smith

      This has nothing to do with Trump. Trump has been and still has considerable opposition within his own party, and this plan was in motion for a while. This is not a chat board. One-line, factually challenged drive by comments are against our site’s policies. One more like this and you will be blacklisted.

  5. a different chris

    >the Committee’s new policy shows a pleasing characteristic of Republicans generally: They have the courage of their convictions.

    Sure about that?

    >Because it was a voice vote, no official vote was recorded.

    Well except for this guy, I’ve read this 6x and still can’t figure out how far up the down is but he does say he’s in favor of….um…it.

    >Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, the chair of the committee, said the new policy would increase transparency by giving members of the House a way to review contracts.

  6. Wade Riddick

    Convictions don’t tell you how corrupt a state is, only whether someone was dumb enough to get caught or honest enough to be offended in the first place.

    1. ambrit

      We’re not alone at the bottom. Louisiana is pretty corrupt, and let us not get into Texas State politics.

      1. Harris

        Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton lost his appeal and will be going to criminal trial for securities fraud.

        That alone should tell you the status of corruption in Texas.

        1. ambrit

          Oh yeah. This corruption thing is very popular all around these United States.
          We had our Commissioner of Prisons get caught. Texas had their AG get caught. Now, if only we could thin out the Federal ranks a bit. A Prison Island for Senators and Representatives? One of the Aleutians should fit the bill.

    2. LivesThere

      ambrit is right of course, but to answer your question I’d say it comes down to culture.

      The ‘deep south’ is all about feudalism/authoritarianism. The poor whites look to the rich whites as princes able to do just about anything they want. When you see someone rich go to prison for something its USUALLY because they slighted another prince. You are taught to say ‘yes suh’ and ‘no suh’ in your infancy to ‘authority’. If you were born and raised in other parts of the country, you just have NO IDEA how much obeisance to their ‘betters’ is baked into the southern mind.

      This means that they not only tolerate but out right EXPECT tons of corruption from their politicians because ‘all of them do it’ and it’s okay because they are ‘important people’.

      1. ambrit

        True enough, but that mind set is slowly filtering out into the wider American society. Look at all the slavish worship of the recent Democratic politicos being fostered. That sort of “blinkered” world view is not restricted to any particular social environment or ‘education’ level.
        Yes though, the denizens of the Deep South do cultivate a world weary cynicism. Could this be an example of “expectations” producing “results?”

  7. TheCatSaid

    Thank you Lambert for passing this on! Aside from the importance for Mississippians, it’s a reminder to be vigilant in safeguarding transparency where we have it, and asking for more.

    Bev Harris’ discoveries about election fraud uncovered crucial information by scrutinizing local and state election contracts and subcontracts. They proved a goldmine in uncovering unscrupulous practices and red-flag-type connections. John Brakey followed through on this in Arizona, for example:

    A single Gila County contract with Doyle authorized $225,000:

    “Services are required in order to conduct elections in Gila County. Services provided include consulting and technical assistance for each election; ballot layout, translation, preparation, and printing; elections database programming; creation, printing, and mailing of sample ballots.” 6

    In a contract between Yavapai County and O’Neill Printing, William Doyle is identified as their “Elections Liason,” described as providing services to over 100 jurisdictions, including “programming for tally systems and conversion of voter files for mailing company.” 7

    As Lambert says, how can voters or their representatives make informed choices if they can’t see contracts before voting on them? Might there be a basis for a state-level constitutional challenge?

    In the meantime, getting a federal election related contract (e.g. for a contract to provide election services) might still be feasible though it might require going through the slow-moving courts process.

  8. ambrit

    Yep. This is pretty much the arrogance and petty slights that constitute much of Mississippi politics.
    Then there was Chris Epps, who has plead guilty to charges of bribery from his stint as Commissioner of Prisons. He is figured to have gotten $1.47 million in bribes for steering prison service contracts in various directions. Yes, you read right. $1.47 million for one department head in one small time state. The Feds claim some $800 million in contracts is involved. No wonder that Jackson Committee wants some “shade” to hide behind.
    See: http://www.wapt.com/article/prison-bribery-case-now-up-to-800-million-prosecutors-say/2097778
    What is so sad about all of this is the almost stereotypical “Manana” attitude one encounters in this state. Corruption is almost a given at the State Legislature level. I suspect that a “real” Banana Republic would be embarrassed to let this level of malfeasance become common knowledge.
    Still, this is the state that gave America the gift of Haley Barbour. Oh, and don’t forget Senator Bilbo of segregationist fame.
    Read, if you dare: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_G._Bilbo

    1. Bass Hogg

      More recently the former Commissioner of Prisons was arrested, allegedly he was removing items from a former residence, one the houses which was seized as being fruits of the bribery scheme. Rather than actually going to any state or local facility in Mississippi, the former Mississippi Commissioner of Prisons Epps requests house arrest.

      Ex-MDOC head Chris Epps charged with burglary

      Bonus: Additional reason why Former Epps probably prefers to limit his behind bars stays to federal Club Feds: the rigged Mississippi DOC contracts included prisoner commissary and prisoner telephone contracts.

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