MS Coast CEO wrote Tate Reeves a $25,000 check. Then he was appointed to the Gaming Commission

Gulfport Memorial Hospital CEO Kent Nicaud wrote Gov. Tate Reeves a $25,000 campaign check about three weeks before the governor appointed him to a significant government job.

Nicaud, who has long been among Reeves’ top campaign donors, landed the governor’s Gaming Commission appointment on March 8, 2023. A little more than three weeks before the appointment, on Feb. 13, 2023, Nicaud wrote Reeves’ campaign the $25,000 check, according to a campaign finance report released last week.

Gaming commissioners receive a modest salary from taxpayers — $40 per day — and are reimbursed by the state for travel and meals. The commission is tasked with regulating the casino gaming industry, which brings the state hundreds of millions in tax revenue each year. That revenue has become necessary to fund basic public services across Mississippi, and because gaming commissioners wield great influence over changes to the industry, they are broadly considered critical figures to one of the state’s most powerful and wealthiest lobbies.

The hospital executive is the latest Nicaud to receive a government appointment from Reeves. Kent’s wife Jenny Field Nicaud, an attorney, scored a Reeves appointment in 2021 as an administrative law judge for the Mississippi Workers Compensation Commission. In that role, Jenny earns an annual salary of $120,768.98, according to Mississippi State Personnel Board records.

The couple’s son Jourdan Nicaud, a well-known Gulf Coast restaurateur, is also a major campaign donor to Reeves. According to last week’s finance report, Jourdan wrote Reeves a separate $25,000 check, which was dated about two weeks after his father was confirmed to the Gaming Commission by the Senate.

All told, the Nicaud family has given close to $200,000 in campaign donations to Reeves over the past few years, according to the governor’s finance reports.

And they’ve facilitated even more donations to the Reeves camp. The couple hosted a fundraiser for Reeves at their Pass Christian mansion in late 2020, the same week that the state’s top physicians issued dire warnings about a lack of hospital bed space to accommodate COVID-19 patients, and during a period Reeves signed mandates limiting the number of people allowed to gather in one place at a time. Kent Nicaud, whose Gulfport hospital had just five beds available on the day of the fundraiser, told Mississippi Today the guests were “very conscious of all the social distancing.”

“This was a very small group of people, and the reason it was at my home was because of the ability to keep everyone separate,” Nicaud said, pointing out that his house is 11,000 square feet. “There were probably never more than 21, 22 people there at one time. This was an event that I felt was meeting safety criteria, and the governor was already in town for a tourism commission and chamber of commerce. This was an opportunity for people to talk to (Reeves) about specific things. We did it safely.”

Nicaud did not return a request for comment on this story.

The Nicauds are among several Reeves insiders who have received government jobs in his first term in office. In 2021, the governor appointed Franc Lee, a consumer loan magnate and Reeves’ largest individual campaign donor, to the Gaming Commission.

Reeves appointed three campaign donors to the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees — among the state’s most powerful government seats — and two campaign donors to the Mississippi Community College Board in 2021.

Businessman Johnny McRight gave Reeves $50,000 in the four years before his 2021 MCCB appointment. Businessman Luke Montgomery gave Reeves $14,500 in the years before his 2021 MCCB appointment.

Gregg Rader, a Columbus businessman, gave Reeves $85,000 in the months leading up to his 2021 IHL appointment. And Rader has continued the flow of money to Reeves’ campaign coffers even after his appointment, writing another $30,000 check to the governor in 2022.

William Symmes, a Gulfport lawyer appointed by Reeves to the MCCB in 2021 after a small 2020 donation to the governor, acknowledged in an interview at the time that his personal connections to Reeves led to his appointment, but said it is logical the governor would pick people who know and support him.

“Obama said it best: ‘Elections have consequences,’” Symmes told Mississippi Today in 2021. “I think that one of those consequences is you’re able to put people around you that you feel comfortable and work well with.”

Another one of Reeves’ appointments from 2023 is Gerard Gibert, the host of a conservative Supertalk Mississippi radio show and regular campaign donor of Reeves. Gibert, first appointed to the Mississippi Lottery Corporation board by former Gov. Phil Bryant, was reappointed by Reeves this year after writing several checks to Reeves’ campaigns since 2017.

Mississippi Today reached out to Reeves’ campaign before this story was published and asked if Reeves worries about the optics of giving major campaign donors or their family members taxpayer-funded government appointments.

Elliott Husbands, Reeves’ campaign manager, responded by email late Wednesday: “This is our statement, please be sure to print it all: ‘Mississippi Today is a liberal Democrat SuperPAC run by proven liars, and in fact was just legally forced to apologize for lying about Republicans as recently as today. Anything written by this blog should be viewed in that context.’”

Editor’s note: The Reeves campaign statement in this story references an apology our CEO issued on May 17 that had no bearing on Reeves.