Were black pastors throughout Mississippi used as part of a massive illegal campaign machine, paying Democratic voters to swing the state Republican primary runoff in favor of the incumbent, Sen. Thad Cochran?
Journalism startup GotNews.com posted an interview Monday with a man claiming just that: He said he is a black pastor who paid black voters to turn out for Cochran last Tuesday, and that he did it because he was told Cochran's Tea Party challenger, Chris McDaniel, was racist.
"[The Cochran campaign] pretty much got the white folks they could get, and they needed some African-American folks to turn the election," said the pastor, identified as Rev. Stevie Fielder.
Mississippi blacks overwhelmingly vote Democratic, with only 2 percent participating in the Republican primary in 2012. Mississippi allows anyone, regardless of party affiliation, to vote in its GOP primary, as long as they didn’t previously vote in that year’s Democratic primary.
What could make the Cochran campaign's outreach suspect is the fact that an essentially unenforceable Mississippi law prohibits voters from participating in a primary if they don't intend to support that party's candidate in the actual election.
And according to Fielder, the Cochran campaign was buying votes.
"If we had to buy the votes, we'd buy the votes just to keep [Cochran] in, to keep McDaniel out," Fielder said.
Fielder said he worked with Cochran staffer Saleem Baird, a man whose checkered past includes a 2011 arrest in connection with improperly licensed strippers at a Jackson, Mississippi, club.
"What [Baird] would do is ... put $15 per vote in each envelope and then give it to the people as they'd go in and vote," Fielder said, adding that he was given many of these envelopes and tasked with recruiting black voters.
"Did he indicate that he was doing this program with many different pastors or just with you?" the interviewer asked.
"Many," Fielder answered, "all over the state."
Fielder says he recruited "hundreds" of voters by offering $15 per vote.
"[Voters] were glad to get $15," Fielder said, adding that he also mentioned McDaniel's alleged racism to prospective recruits as an extra incentive.
Fielder said he was promised $16,000 for his efforts, dependent on Cochran winning. He said he came forward to the press after the Cochran campaign reneged.
"How did you feel about participating in a scheme to buy votes?" the interviewer asked.
"Now look, what I did was, I did a job to keep a racist out of office," Fielder responded. "[The Cochran campaign] sold me on the fact that [McDaniel] was a racist and the right thing to do was to keep him out of office."
Later in the interview, Fielder said he felt lied to and manipulated, and that when he started asking more about McDaniel — after beginning to recruit voters against him — he started to believe the charge of racism might have been baseless.
Listen to the interview below:
It's worth noting that the folks behind GotNews.com, independent journalist Charles C. Johnson and documentary filmmaker Joel Gilbert, paid Fielder for his story, something Fielder made sure to confirm during the interview. Fielder even asked to be "taken care of" and noted that if he wasn't, he would go back to the Cochran campaign which, he said, was willing to pay him in order to "erase everything."
Breitbart noted the ethically dubious payment, and received a defense from 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.”
The new audio is just one of the sketchy stories emerging about the Mississippi primary.
On Monday, the chairman of the Mississippi Federation of College Republicans, who had reportedly campaigned for Cochran, announced that he was resigning and joining the Democratic Party.
On Friday, the vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party was found dead of an apparent suicide after he was charged in connection with the taking photos of Cochran's bedridden wife.
Before the primary runoff, Cochran openly acknowledged courting black voters while disavowing specific robocalls — robocalls recorded and made public by the independent journalist Johnson, who's now running GotNews.com.
TheBlaze attempted to contact Fielder to confirm the details of the story, but there was no answer at the First Union Missionary Baptist Church he's said to be connected to and no means of leaving a message. A separate attempt to call a number purportedly associated with Fielder was disconnected.
A McDaniel spokesman said he was "reserving comment."
A representative for Cochran did not immediately return a request for comment from TheBlaze.
UPDATE: A Cochran spokesman told the Clarion-Ledger on Tuesday that the campaign had hired Fielder for campaign work, but not to buy votes. The spokesman also said the Cochran camp was considering suing Fielder and Johnson over the vote-buying allegations.
This story has been updated.
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