By Ryan S. Walters | @ryanswalters73
Since Geoff Pender’s devastating article yesterday in the Clarion Ledger, and my own expose here at MCD, about the FBI probe of State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s campaign spending, Pickering has counter-attacked by going after the messengers and releasing a detailed statement defending his campaign, and himself, from charges of misspent funds.
Pickering’s defense is that this is all about politics. “This is nothing more than last-minute election year politics at its dirtiest,” he said, blaming most of it on his opponent, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler.
He has also attacked Tiffany Parrish, from whom Pickering purchased a BMW with campaign funds. She is being ripped as a “disgruntled” former employee.
Well if she is so “disgruntled,” then why has Pickering’s own wife, Whitney, been happily tweeting with Parrish in recent days:
And, if Parrish is so “disgruntled,” why did Pickering write this 2011 letter recommending her services: Tiffany Parrish Stacey Pickering letter
As for the car in question, Pickering says it was used for campaign purposes. But why not just rent one, as other campaigns do, if not buy one? And the fact that Pickering’s daughter currently has the car and personally uses it, as a student at Ole Miss, doesn’t square with Pickering’s “facts” either, especially with a Kappa Delta sticker on it. Calling it a campaign car, while sending your daughter to an event or two, does not make it so.
And let us not forget, the FBI contacted Ms. Parrish; she did not contact them. So the “disgruntled” employee defense just won’t fly.
As for other aspects of Pickering’s campaign spending, he has defended his “travel expenses” as campaign related, because he traveled the state and the country on behalf of other candidates, including Mitt Romney in 2012 (Pickering was state chair for Romney, so I’m not sure how out-of-state travel can be explained). But would that be an illegal contribution to the Romney campaign? A presidential campaign contribution can be no more than $2,600 a year. So with that explanation it seems someone, either Pickering or Romney, is in trouble with the FEC.
But the facts are these: Pickering’s travel expenses for 2012, 2013, and 2014 (none of which were state campaign years, and only one was a presidential year) total more than $135,000. That’s a LOT of travel on behalf of candidates.
But here’s what really troubles me: He has multiple payments, marked “travel expenses,” paid to various banks – Regions and Community. In his statement, he seems to explain it this way:
“Over the years, I have had several staffers from the Auditor’s office who have worked on minor projects for my campaigns. They did this work during their own personal time. As reiterated by the Clarion Ledger, this is not prohibited, thus, I reimbursed them from my campaign account for their travel and/or expenses.”
That’s the only part of Pickering’s statement that might possibly touch the bank issue. But here’s the bigger problem for Mr. Pickering: He has multiple payments to these banks for EXACTLY the same amount!
For example, in his 2013 campaign report, he lists at least 10 payments to Regions Bank for $701.19 each. The payments are on January 14, February 12, March 12, April 12, May 2, two on July 8, August 15, November 19, and December 19.
The same year he also has multiple payments to Community Bank: He has at least four payments in the amount of $379.64 – May 23, July 18, August 23, and October 15. There are other payments to the bank as well.
And again, these are marked “travel expenses.” Could it be a loan to the campaign for travel? It’s possible but then why the reimbursements to Pickering, his wife, and to credit cards for that same purpose?
These things need to be explained by the State Auditor. He needs to quit attacking his opponent and Tiffany Parrish, who has been caught up in this and is doing the right thing by cooperating with the FBI.
With his less-than-transparent statement released today, the only one playing politics at this point seems to be Stacey Pickering. We are owed more than that.