Nelson Wayne Carr (left) and Dane Maxwell (right)
The Southern District Public Service Commissioner race between incumbent Dane Maxwell and challenger Nelson Wayne Carr is getting heated with less than two weeks to go until the August 8th Republican Primary.
Questions surrounding Public Service Commissioners’ campaign finances have been a hot topic this election year.
In June, Magnolia Tribune provided an exhaustive look into donations related to Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat, and Central District Commissioner Brent Bailey, a Republican, that have raised eyebrows this cycle. Those donations include a contribution from a regulated utility to Presley that was later refunded as well as donations made by a law firm to both Presley and Bailey whose invoices are paid through the rate structure of a regulated utility.
Now, just two weeks from the August 8th Republican Primary, Southern District Commissioner Dane Maxwell’s opponent Nelson Wayne Carr has voiced concerns about the first-term incumbent’s campaign donations from 2022.
Carr is demanding that Maxwell return $15,000 of “illegally obtained campaign donations from entities that he is supposed to be regulating at the PSC.”
According to Mississippi Code § 77-1-11, it is unlawful for a sitting Public Service Commissioner to knowingly accept:
…any gift, pass, money, campaign contribution or any emolument or other pecuniary benefit whatsoever, either directly or indirectly, from any person interested as owner, agent or representative, or from any person acting in any respect for such owner, agent or representative of any common or contract carrier by motor vehicle, telephone company, gas or electric utility company, or any other public utility that shall come under the jurisdiction or supervision of the Public Service Commission.
Carr is questioning three donations made to Maxwell in 2022 as reported in the incumbent’s January 2023 campaign finance report. The donations are for $5,000 each and come from MidWest Water Operations LLC, BL-STL LLC, and 21 Design Group Inc. – all located in Missouri. Two of the three entities – Midwest and 21 Design – have the same address in Washington, Missouri.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, the two LLC donations are allowable contributions as they are not corporations. LLCs do not have an annual donation limit. However, the 21 Design Group Inc. is incorporated and must adhere to the corporate prohibition of donating no more than $1,000 per calendar year to a candidate.
When asked about the donation from 21 Design Group, Maxwell told Magnolia Tribune on Tuesday that he had written a check for $4,000 to refund and correct the donation made by the 21 Design Group.
“A contribution from 2022 was received from an entity that did not label itself as a corporation,” Maxwell said. “Since learning this, I have returned the money and corrected this with the Secretary of State’s office to ensure the contribution is in compliance with state law.”
Carr also questioned the donation from MidWest Water Operations, saying it “does business with Central States Water Company and Great River Utility,” adding, “All three would be regulated by the PSC in Mississippi.”
In June 2021, the Public Service Commission approved the acquisition of 26 water and wastewater systems in Mississippi by Great River. Great River is a division of Central States Water Resources.
Carr noted that 21 Design Group “does work for [Central States Water Resources] and Great River and should be ineligible to donate to a PSC Commissioner.” He also says Maxwell’s donation from BL-STL LLC, a St. Louis, Missouri law firm, is improper since the firm “works for [Central States Water Resources] and Great River.”
Given the accusations by Carr and in an effort to review the Commission’s regulatory actions regarding the entities in question, Magnolia Tribune asked Mississippi Public Service Commission Executive Director Katherine Collier for any and all filings made by or certificates of public convenience or necessity issued to MidWest Water, 21 Design Group, or BL-STL. According to Collier, none exist on file.
“A search of the Commission’s electronic records produced no information responsive to your inquiry,” Collier stated.
When asked specifically about the donations in question, Maxwell said he has not received any contributions from entities regulated by the PSC.
“I have not received any campaign contributions from entities regulated by the Public Service Commission nor from any entity that is prohibited from contributing to campaigns for Public Service Commission,” Maxwell told Magnolia Tribune.