Coming Soon: The FEC Complaint (and Election Challenge) in Mississippi

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 11 2014 7:07 PM

Coming Soon: The FEC Complaint (and Election Challenge) in Mississippi

Yesterday afternoon, journalist Charles C. Johnson—who's based in California—announced a surprise press conference to be held at the National Media Center. The looming, anonymous building housed a group that had been paid by for work the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and that had purchased ads in Mississippi that warned black voters of the danger if they let Thad Cochran lose his primary. Johnson, joined by New Jersey political operative Rick Shaftan, was there to lay out the possible, illegal ramifications of this.

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"It is an incontrovertible fact that one of this firm's top officials, John Ferrell, signed forms for race-baiting ads all over Mississippi," said Johnson, reading his statement as a local Tea Party leader hoisted a Gadsden flag. "Rick Shaftan and I did the work nobody in the media bothered to do and obtained the order forms direct from radio stations in Mississippi."

Ferrell had not commented, and the media write large had not followed up the story. Indeed, I was one of just four reporters who decided to stop by the presser. Johnson deferred to Shaftan on the details of the case.

"There is no proof that his theory is true," he said, "but there is no proof that it is not true."

Shaftan stepped forward to sum up what he knew. "National Media got $175,000 from the NRSC to place ads, to do phone calls, in support of Thad Cochran," he said. "None of those ads ever appeared. What did appear -- from this same building -- were ads from a group called All Citizens for Mississippi, that has not filed any contribution or expenditure reports." The money was "laundered, criminally," and the only sane response was "a new election."

No one from National Media exited the building; Johnson, who had asked many rounds of unanswered questions, did not want to come off as a stalker. The whole event emphasized just how intractable some conservatives are in their opposition to the Mississippi result, and their certitude that the establishment played filthy. Not long after the Alexandria presser, Chris McDaniel's campaign announced that it found "over 8,300" ballots that might have been cast outside the rules of the June 24 runoff—i.e., just enough ballots to overwhelm the margin between Cochran and his opponent.

Yet Johnson and Shaftan said that their case was basically unrelated, and would go on even if the election in Mississippi was certified in full. Someone—maybe one of them—would soon have to file an FEC complaint. "Anyone can file an FEC complaint," said Shaftan, especially if a scenario seemed to show behavior that was "false and with the intent to deceive."

"I've been critical of Dinesh D'Souza," said Shaftan. "He committed a crime. He's going to go to jail for this crime." The strategist pointed at the brick-and-glass facade behind him. "And these people should be going to jail also."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.