Cochran Senate campaign admits to FEC filing 'screw up'

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Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) campaign said Tuesday it “screwed up” its Federal Election Commission reports when disclosing $53,000 in get-out-the-vote cash payments and will have to amend its filings.

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The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., reported that campaign adviser Austin Barbour said the campaign made a mistake when disclosing large sums listed as reimbursements for “Campaign Walkers” to staffer Amanda Shook. 

Conservative blogger Charles Johnson reported Monday night that the reimbursements, including payments ranging from $8,000 to $15,000, violated FEC rules, which declare staffers can only be reimbursed for food and travel costs. Any other reimbursements to staff are considered loans, and cannot exceed $2,600.

Cochran’s campaign has faced allegations of vote-buying after Johnson reported last week on the claims of a self-declared minister who said he was given large sums of cash and instructed to pay African-Americans $15 each to vote for Cochran in the runoff election.

The senator’s campaign made no secret of its plans to court black Democrats aggressively, and that strategy helped drive Cochran to an unexpected win in over challenger Chris McDaniel, but his campaign has vigorously denied any allegations of vote-buying.

Barbour said that the payments to Shook should have been listed as cash payments to dozens of get-out-the-vote workers, and called the filing a “screw up.”

"Amanda, as director of operations, is like our office manager," Barbour said. "So she would run to the bank to get cash to pay field workers.

"Our treasurer screwed up, and we are fixing it right now," Barbour added. "We are amending our FEC report for the primary, and the one for the runoff — I think it's due within a week or so — will be filed correctly."

He insisted that the cash payments to campaign workers weren’t anything out of the ordinary, and that his uncle, former Gov. Haley Barbour, and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), both paid staffers in cash.

"Everybody pays in cash," Barbour said. "Let's say I'm a field rep for Madison County. I don't know on a particular day if 50 people are going to show up or 40 — I don't know who is going to show up. I don't know whether some will work only one shift, others two shifts. Trying to have checks for everybody is a waste of time. And if you don't pay people that day, they walk, they may not come back."

Barbour said the campaign has the names and addresses of all of the get-out-the-vote workers and is in the middle of compiling an amended FEC report.

But the cash payments gave McDaniel’s campaign officials another opportunity to question the legitimacy of the election outcome. They've spent the last week gathering evidence to challenge the results in court. McDaniel has accused Cochran of “stealing” the election and believes there are enough illegitimate votes in the runoff to nullify Cochran’s nearly 7,600-vote lead and force a special election.

"Given the several allegations of walking around money being used to purchase votes, this latest revelation that the Cochran campaign is paying staffers in cash disbursements of over $40,000 would appear to be in keeping with their clear pattern of disregard for the rule of law," McDaniel spokesman Noel Fritsch said. "Mississippians deserve a full accounting of exactly how Cochran spent campaign cash on the streets in order to drive Democrats to the polls in June."

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