By Matthew Boyle, Breitbart News, June 30, 2014
A black Mississippi pastor has emerged to claim Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-MS) campaign paid “thousands” of Democrats $15 each to vote in the June 24 GOP runoff – and that he was part of the scheme.
Rev. Stevie Fielder, an associate pastor at First Union Missionary Baptist Church in Meridan, Mississippi, says Cochran’s campaign “told me to offer blacks $15 each and to vote for Thad.”
Fielder, who was paid by freelance journalist Charles C. Johnson for the story, provided a new outlet launched by Johnson—GotNews.com—with four text messages from a person purporting to be Cochran campaign staffer Saleem Baird.
The messages cite an official Cochran campaign email address—Saleem@ThadForMs.com—and include detailed discussions of the campaign providing envelopes of money to distribute to people who vote.
“Send me individual names and amounts along with home address to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll have money separated in envelopes at the office waiting for you,” one message, sent three days before the runoff, says.
Fielder said he helped distribute the Cochran cash for votes on a promise of eventually getting paid $16,000—and because a key Cochran campaign staffer convinced him that Cochran’s conservative challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel was racist.
“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 said.
But Cochran’s campaign never paid, Fielder said.
Fielder also now says he was wrong about McDaniel’s character. He said he “took a good look at the campaign ads” and came to understand that “McDaniel was not a racist.
“Me and other people were misguided and misled,” Fielder said.
In a brief phone interview with Breitbart News, Fielder confirmed that he is an associate pastor at First Union Missionary Baptist Church and that he leveled the allegations in an interview with Johnson.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics says, “Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.” Johnson defended paying for the story in an email, saying, “Why wouldn’t I pay for an awesome story?”
“Gawker, the Daily Mail, TMZ all pay for information (and they pay poorly, by the way). There’s also a long history of ‘checkbook journalism’ in America. I’m bringing it back. Indeed, every press baron in American history has relied on it. Pulitzer, Hearst, Luce, and, yes, Oprah are all supporters of it. David Frost paid for the Nixon tapes, goodness sake.”
Though Fielder himself has not been paid the $16,000 he says he was promised for his services, he was given the enveloped cash to distribute amongst the black community in Mississippi in exchange for Cochran votes—and says that others like him were similar given such cash.
Fielder, a Democrat, says he has voted for Republicans in the past and that his motive to come forward with this information at this time is that he now thinks what he did was “wrong.” He says he was mostly motivated by the claims—which he now understands are untrue—that McDaniel was a racist, not by the money. “Definitely the election should not be allowed to stand,” Fielder said, adding that he’d support McDaniel in the event a judge orders a new runoff election as a result of alleged voter fraud. “He’s been done wrong,” Fielder said of McDaniel. “He’s not what they said that he is.”
In his interview with Johnson’s Got News outlet, Fielder says Baird was just one of the several Cochran staffers he interacted with about this matter pre-election. Fielder said he also discussed the alleged vote buying matter with Cochran’s campaign manager Kirk Sims and a woman named “Amanda.”
Baird is a top legislative staffer for Cochran’s Mississippi U.S. Senate colleague Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS). In 2011, Baird was arrested because a club he was the manager of allegedly featured a strip show and did not have a license to feature women stripping. The charges were later dropped and Wicker kept Baird on as an employee.
While at this time it is unclear whether Cochran’s campaign’s alleged actions rise to the level of either of these statutes, federal and state law prohibit the purchasing of votes. Mississippi’s statute that prohibits vote buying states that any candidate engaged in such a practice should disqualified from running in that race for the office or shall be removed from that office if they have been elected into it.
But as to whether Cochran himself—the “candidate,” per Mississippi law—would be responsible for the actions of his campaign staffers, election law attorney Trey Traynor of Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, LLP told Breitbart News that “clearly yes,” Mississippi’s “statutes applies to candidates and their agents.”