A Meridian man who said he was paid two thousand dollars by incumbent Senator Thad Cochran's reelection campaign to buy African American votes during the Republican Senate Runoff in June, is changing his story. He now claims a Chris McDaniel campaign staffer was the one who actually paid him to make the allegations.
Stevie Fielder, an associate pastor at First Union Missionary Baptist Church in Meridian, made the vote buying claim against the Cochran camp during a paid interview conducted last month by conservative blogger Charles Johnson.
During the interview, Fielder claimed he was approached by members of Cochran's reelection campaign to go door to door and promise African-Americans $15 if they voted for Cochran.
However, when law enforcement officials began investigating the allegations Fielder told them a different story.
"He admitted he got paid $2000 to lie."
That was Attorney General Jim Hood speaking last week at the Neshoba County Fair. At the time, Hood told reporters that they didn't know who paid Fielder to make the accusations.
Jan Schaffer, spokesperson for the A.G.'s Office, later confirmed that Fielder told state investigators that he was paid by Noel Fritsch a spokesman for the McDaniel Campaign. Fritsch says the allegations are baseless.
"That is false." says Fritsch. "I did not do that. What I understand, Charles Johnson did not either. My understanding is that Charles paid for the text and emails. Those emails are from a Thad Cochran campaign staffer, and those emails and texts strongly suggest that the Cochran campaign was paying $15 for Democrats to vote in the primary."
Despite the seriousness of the vote buying claims, it remains uncertain if Fielder or Fritsch -- for that matter -- broke any laws. Attorney General Jim Hood says they are continuing to investigate the matter.
"It's not a crime to lie." Hood says. "If you do it in court or you use it in court somehow, that's when you can step over the line. That's just an issue we're still looking at."
The McDaniel Campaign officially contested the results of the June 24th GOP Runoff on Monday, Fielder's claims of vote buying by the Cochran Campaign was a part of that challenge.