- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The most expensive ballot initiative campaign in Mississippi history got costlier in September, as supporters of the Initiative 42 education funding measure continued to outraise opponents.

However, opponents for the first time reported substantial contributions in filings Friday with the Secretary of State, including from top Republican officials and state trade associations.

Better Schools, Better Jobs - the political committee backing Initiative 42 - raised $357,000 in September. Of that, all but $40,000 came from the New Venture Fund, a Washington, D.C., charity that has given Better Schools, Better Jobs nearly $2 million over two years.

Documents reviewed and interviews conducted by The Associated Press show a majority of pro-initiative money ultimately originates from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, timber magnate and former Democratic Secretary of State Dick Molpus and former Netscape and FedEx executive Jim Barksdale.

Those three are giving money to Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation and New Venture Fund, which in turn are giving it to Better Schools, Better Jobs. The Southern Education Foundation says it’s giving from its own reserves as well.

Initiative 42 would require the state to provide “an adequate and efficient system of public schools,” and allow people to sue if funding falls short. Supporters say students are shortchanged because lawmakers don’t provide as much money as Mississippi’s school funding formula demands.

Republican leaders oppose the measure, saying it could give a judge control over a large portion of the state budget. They put an alternative on the ballot to require “effective” schools, without stipulating a right to sue.

Voters will decide on Nov. 3.

One opposition group, the Improve Mississippi Political Initiative Committee, raised $200,000 last month. Although the committee is currently running television ads, it reported spending only about $150 through the end of September.

Chipping in $10,000 apiece were the campaign committees of four top Republicans - Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson of Poplarville. Contributions also included $25,000 apiece from the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, the Mississippi Bankers Association, the Mississippi Realtors Association, the Homebuilders Association of Mississippi and the Mississippi Poultry Association.

In a statement, the committee said all its money originates from Mississippi and criticized Better Schools, Better Jobs’ reliance on “millions of out-of-state dollars.”

Michael Rejebian, co-campaign manager for initiative supporters, replied that IMPIC is “funded by the same state politicians who have bullied and threatened lobbyists into coercing the organizations they serve into giving them money.”

A second opposition group, KidsFirst Mississippi, raised $122,000 and has $110,000 on hand. All but $2,500 of the money came from Americans for Prosperity, the political advocacy arm of conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.

Better Schools, Better Jobs has raised nearly $3 million over two years. That far surpasses the previous record for an initiative, set when Mississippians for Healthy Families spent $1.9 million in 2011 defeating a proposed “personhood” amendment that declared life begins at fertilization.

Better Schools, Better Jobs spent $440,000 in September, leaving $78,000 on hand. One example of that spending is a full-page ad that will appear Sunday in the state’s three largest newspapers, with 52 people endorsing the initiative. Better Schools, Better Jobs said signers include former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, author John Grisham, former University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert C. Khayat and New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, a Vicksburg native.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy

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