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Mississippi lawmakers direct money for ads in some schools

MGN Online

An advertising company that uses a well-connected lobbying firm has been paid more than $2.3 million since 2012 to hang posters in some Mississippi schools.

Posted: Jul 24, 2019 4:45 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — An advertising company that uses a well-connected lobbying firm has been paid more than $2.3 million since 2012 to hang posters in some Mississippi schools.

The Clarion Ledger reported that Mississippi lawmakers gave specific directions to state agencies to use the services of SkoolAds, based in Memphis, Tennessee.

For the 2018-2019 school year, Mississippi paid about $3,000 to create anti-tobacco posters, then paid SkoolAds $255,000 to hang those posters in fewer than one-tenth of the state's public schools.

Since 2011, SkoolAds has paid $362,302 to a firm led by Beth Clay, long one of the highest-paid Mississippi lobbyists.

SkoolAds and its lobbyists say that driving school to school and personally placing posters in black frames above drinking fountains and on cafeteria walls ensures students are seeing posters. They say SkoolAds has working relationships with schools across the state, making it the only company currently capable of handling the job. They also say competitive bidding would reaffirm that.

"We've been doing an awesome job for years and providing indisputable results," SkoolAds owner Lori Swaney said in a text message to the newspaper.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Mississippi State Department of Health have questioned the effectiveness of SkoolAds.

A transportation spokesman said the agency never wanted to spend money on SkoolAds, but was directed to do so by the Legislature.

MDOT spent $300,000 over three years for SkoolAds to hang posters about driver safety, including the dangers of texting while driving.

"We didn't think it had any real value whatsoever," said MDOT spokesman Chris Turner. "We want to fix roads. This took our money. This was really unnecessary."

SkoolAds conducts its own surveys, which contend 100 percent of students see the anti-tobacco posters. However, an internal email shows the former director of the state's Office of Tobacco Control doubted the posters' effectiveness as early as 2015.

When asked if the Health Department ever requested the SkoolAds program, agency spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said no.

The SkoolAds anti-tobacco advertising was funded after SkoolAds hired Clay and found an influential supporter in Republican Sen. Terry Burton of Newton.

Swaney's initial sales pitch to the Department of Health was unsuccessful. She reached out to the agency as early as December 2011, when she emailed a Health Department official thanking him for meeting with her.

In 2012, Swaney sent a letter outlining several proposals for hanging anti-tobacco posters in schools, but the department chose none of them.

During the 2013 session, lawmakers wrote SkoolAds into the Health Department appropriation bill for $300,000, ordering the program to be funded. The money came from the state's 1997 lawsuit settlement with tobacco companies.

Clay emailed the Health Department director in September 2013, inquiring about a delay with the SkoolAds money and reminding her that Burton and Republican Rep. John Moore of Brandon wanted SkoolAds funded. Moore was the House Education chairman, and the earmark initially required a transfer of money from the Department of Education.

Hope Ladner, who works at Clay's lobbying firm, said Burton was the driving force behind the SkoolAds earmark.

"Ironically, Sen. Burton was a smoker, and he was one of our biggest advocates about this because he truly believed that targeting youth was the best way to spend tobacco cessation, tobacco prevention money," Ladner said.

Burton is recovering from a stroke and declined to comment to the Clarion Ledger. He is not seeking re-election. Moore resigned from the House in late 2017 after facing sexual harassment complaints from several women.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 266598

Reported Deaths: 5852
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17928195
Hinds17030337
Harrison14510212
Rankin11315223
Jackson11054193
Lee9109147
Madison8663171
Jones6853120
Forrest6260125
Lauderdale6161196
Lowndes5582123
Lafayette5269101
Lamar508765
Washington4965125
Bolivar4164110
Oktibbeha411585
Panola389881
Pontotoc380460
Monroe3727111
Warren3716103
Marshall360172
Union360165
Pearl River3527106
Neshoba3516158
Leflore3132110
Lincoln308389
Hancock300963
Sunflower294277
Tate281862
Alcorn274055
Pike272984
Itawamba271263
Scott264055
Yazoo258456
Prentiss255454
Coahoma252455
Copiah251549
Tippah251551
Simpson244872
Leake238967
Marion228274
Covington224873
Grenada224673
Wayne216336
Adams216271
Winston208271
George206440
Newton201447
Attala197465
Tishomingo196361
Chickasaw190245
Jasper183138
Holmes172568
Clay168637
Tallahatchie158035
Stone153625
Clarke148762
Calhoun142022
Smith131926
Yalobusha124935
Walthall115438
Greene114929
Noxubee114526
Montgomery112936
Lawrence107917
Carroll106922
Perry105931
Amite102727
Webster98024
Claiborne90125
Tunica89621
Jefferson Davis89330
Benton86923
Humphreys85625
Kemper81220
Quitman7169
Franklin71017
Choctaw64013
Wilkinson60125
Jefferson57321
Sharkey45717
Issaquena1616
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 445909

Reported Deaths: 6896
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson651891049
Mobile32138590
Madison28596223
Tuscaloosa21703276
Montgomery20220336
Shelby19584138
Baldwin17496216
Lee13378109
Morgan12741145
Etowah12196189
Calhoun11626228
Marshall10513126
Houston9097168
Limestone842481
Cullman8363125
Elmore8283112
Lauderdale7986112
DeKalb7935112
St. Clair7915139
Talladega6552112
Walker6068184
Jackson605649
Colbert560194
Blount551794
Autauga544065
Coffee470569
Dale415186
Franklin378150
Russell362816
Chilton348079
Covington344681
Escambia342244
Tallapoosa3184109
Dallas314197
Chambers308575
Clarke307339
Pike267735
Lawrence256958
Marion255763
Winston235243
Bibb224751
Geneva214747
Marengo212031
Pickens201831
Barbour188240
Hale187444
Fayette181230
Butler175960
Cherokee167433
Henry161325
Monroe153521
Randolph148236
Washington144027
Clay131050
Crenshaw126245
Macon124337
Cleburne123627
Lamar121324
Lowndes117636
Wilcox109422
Bullock105829
Perry100518
Conecuh98222
Sumter90828
Greene78323
Coosa64619
Choctaw52224
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