The conservative blogger from California who paid a Baptist minister from Meridian to tell his story about vote buying in the Republican Senate runoff between incumbent Senator Thad Cochran and state Senator Chris McDaniel is in the state on a speaking tour. Reports also indicate that the blogger, Chuck Johnson, has been subpoenaed by a grand jury in Lauderdale County in conjunction with an investigation of a felony. The Baptist minister from Meridian stands by his claims of vote buying in the senate race.
For nearly six weeks, Reverend Stevie Fielder of First Union Missionary Baptist Church in Meridian has been at the center of one of the most closely watched political dramas in the nation. Fielder's role in that drama came about after he participated in an interview with conservative, political blogger Chuck Johnson, where he made allegations of vote buying against members of Senator Thad Cochran's reelection campaign.
Fielder, who had been previously doing outreach for the Cochran camp, says he was asked to participate in the vote buying scheme by a Cochran staffer shortly before the June 24th Republican Senatorial runoff.
"Salem Baird approached me and asked me if I would go out into the African American community and get people to accept $15 for their vote," says Fielder. "He wanted me to get at least 20 of them at a time that would accept it. My response to them was that that was illegal. He said he had plenty of people doing it all over the state of Mississippi and he needed somebody in that area."
Baird refused to comment on the allegations, but Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell says Fielder's claims are an attempt by primary rival state Senator Chris McDaniel's campaign to undermine the June 24th election.
"Well, it's just not true," says Russell. "It's another in a long list of lies and made-up allegations that the McDaniel people are using to try and throw against the wall to try to question the validity of an election that Senator Cochran won fair and square."
Further questions about the validity of Fielder's claims were made after it was found that he was paid for his story. Chuck Johnson, the conservative blogger who conducted the interview and later posted it to his website, says he paid Fielder $2,000 for text messages and emails that show Baird asked Fielder to buy votes.
"I have repeatedly said and will continue to say, because it's true, that I was the one who paid Rev. Fielder," Johnson says. "I paid him an amount of money to have his text messages and publish the material on my site as well as the audio as well."
Yet, Fielder recounts the sequence of events differently. He says he wasn't paid by Johnson, but instead by Noel Fritsch, the spokesman for state Senator Chris McDaniel's campaign. Fielder also says Fritsch was present when the interview was conducted by Johnson. He says he was asked to explain as a hypothetical situation how the vote buying scheme would have worked.
"That's what Noel Fritsch was paying me for to give Charles Johnson a run-through of how it would be," says Fielder. "A hypothetical situation so that the people would understand how the full process was working. That's all it was. I had to put myself in the situation as if I would have actually taken the bribe to do this; what they was wanting me to do.
Fritsch refused to be recorded during an interview yesterday, but in a previous conversation with MPB when asked about paying Fielder or being part of the interview process he responded like this.
"That is false, I did not do that." Fritsch says. "What I understand, Charles Johnson did not do that either. My understanding is that Charles paid for the text and emails, and those emails are from a Thad Cochran campaign staffer and those emails and texts strongly suggest that the Cochran campaign was paying $15 dollars for Democrats to vote in the primary."
Fielder's initial allegations of vote buying also sparked an immediate investigation conducted by Attorney General Jim Hood's office. While repeated attempts to reach Hood for a comment went unanswered, he previously stated that he believes Fielder was paid to lie. Fielder says he stands by his claims.
"At no point did I admit to him that McDaniel and them paid me to lie to bring all of this stuff up like it didn't happen." says Fielder. "It happened. I told the truth. Just the interview was paid, but not to lie to anyone. I was not paid to lie."
State Senator Chris McDaniel is challenging his 7,700 vote loss to Senator Thad Cochran during the June 24th Republican Senatorial Runoff by claiming voter fraud and illegal voting tainted the results. Fielder’s paid interview is part of that challenge.