Things are getting ever weirder in Mississippi.
The latest broadside in the tea party’s long-shot effort to overturn Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-MS) primary runoff win over state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) is a claim by an obscure conservative blogger that Cochran’s campaign bought African-Americans’ votes at $15 a pop.
The claim is centered on a report by blogger Charles C. Johnson, who reported at his website GotNews.com that African-American activist Stevie Fielder brought “hundreds or even thousands” of African-Americans to vote for Cochran. Johnson alleges that Fielder motivated the voters by calling McDaniel a racist. Johnson identifies Fielder as a pastor at the First Missionary Baptist Church in Meridian, Mississippi, located in Lauderdale County, but a deacon at the church told the Clarion-Ledger that Fielder is not a pastor there and is instead a “self-proclaimed minister.”
Here’s a paragraph from Johnson’s report:
At the direction of the Cochran campaign, Reverend Fielder went “door to door, different places, mostly impoverished neighborhoods, to the housing authorities and stuff like that,” telling fellow blacks that McDaniel was a racist and promising them $15 per vote. “They sold me on the fact that he was a racist and that the right thing to do was to keep him out of office,” Fielder says.The Cochran campaign strongly denied Johnson’s report.
The Cochran campaign strongly denied Johnson’s report.
“It comes from a blogger who in the last 24 hours has accused a Mississippi public official of being responsible for an individual’s death and had to retract other outlandish accusations regarding another Mississippi elected official,” Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell told the Clarion Ledger. “The author of this article admits he paid his source for the story.”
Russell is referring to the following tweet, which accused Republican operatives of being responsible for the suicide of a tea party lawyer who was charged in an alleged conspiracy related to another blogger, “Constitutional” Clayton Kelly, who entered a nursing home to take a photograph of Cochran’s wife for an anti-Cochran video.
— Charles C. Johnson (@ChuckCJohnson) June 27, 2014
Russell’s comment also refers to another Johnson tweet alleging that the Mississippi secretary of State was arrested for gambling. He later retracted the report and issued an apology.
McDaniel supporters, since he lost the runoff, have accused Cochran of engaging in foul play to win the election by seeking out African-American and Democratic support. Laura Van Overschelde, a member of the Central Mississippi Tea Party, a group that strongly supports McDaniel, echoed Johnson’s report on her Facebook.
“You lame stream media, Thad bought this election paying black voters harvested by black pastors at $15 a vote,” Van Overschelde wrote. “Do your investigative reporting before you start spouting off printing false narratives.”
Johnson’s report also features text messages Fielder says are between him and Saleem Baired, the minority outreach director for the Cochran campaign. According to Fielder, the Cochran campaign said it would pay him $16,000 but never ended up paying him. Russell said that the Cochran campaign said it would pay him $600.
Russell told the Mississippi paper that Fielder was hired to be involved in its get-out-the-vote operation.
“Saleem asked the guy for names and addresses for [Federal Election Commission] filing purposes,” Russell told the Clarion-Ledger. “Why would you ask a guy for names and addresses if you’re buying votes?”
Melba Clark, who is on the Lauderdale County Executive Committee and a member of the First Missionary Baptist Church, said she didn’t believe Fielder’s claims.
“Not only do I not believe any vote buying went on, I don’t even know who Mr. Fielder was supposed to have taken to the polls,” Clark told the Clarion-Ledger. “I’m not aware of any people that Mr. Fielder took to the polls, or anybody having promised money to people. Yes, I think I would have heard about that.”
Deacon Robert Markham of the church also told the newspaper that Fielder has a questionable reputation.
“Let me just say, I wouldn’t do business with him. He calls himself a contractor, doing construction work for people,” Markham said. “He’s had some problems with older people, and several people have had to take him to court about not finishing jobs.”