In the midst of Mississippi's senatorial race, a super PAC created by a prominent local bishop emerged with the hopes of ensuring U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran's re-election prior to the June 24 Republican primary runoff. That PAC, called All Citizens for Mississippi, got the attention of African American voters with racial messaging and contributed to the large voter turnout for Cochran.
"A victory for Chris McDaniel is a loss for the reputation of this state for race, for race relationships between blacks and whites and other ethnic groups," one All Citizens radio ad warned.
The leader of the PAC, New Horizon Church International Bishop Ronnie Crudup, came under fire after reporters discovered his church shares the address the All Citizens PAC listed with the Federal Election Commission. Initially, he did not return calls about discrepancies and missing FEC reports. When the PAC filed a report with the FEC on July 15, it only revealed that a super PAC started by members of the Haley Barbour family had donated to his PAC. The report did not include a number of donors and expenditures for advertising run before the runoff—information Crudup claims the PAC will not reveal until its Oct. 15 FEC report. He said he didn't have to report the advertising payments before the runoff because the PAC did not actually pay for them until after the runoff.
The report also indicated that $97,500 went to individuals and groups—including James "Scooby" Warren and Better Solutions, both listed with the same address. Warren told media that he was organizing a statewide get-out-the-vote effort for Cochran on behalf of Mississippi Conservatives.
Finally, Crudup met with the Jackson Free Press at the church the evening of July 16 and explained the work All Citizens did to secure Cochran in the Senate—and why race was a crucial factor of the result.
First of all, who did you kind of target when you were looking for donations, or how did you fundraise to people?
Well, I went to certain African American folks because they were certainly my target for the work ... the African American community. And I also went to the other sources that I understood and knew had monies to invest in the political campaign, and one of those particular sources was Mississippi Conservatives. I went to them, they didn't come to me on this. I sold the case that I could do this and produce and asked them for a certain amount of money, and we negotiated that, and they invested some money in us for the work that we were going to do.
That is shown on the FEC reports. Was there anyone else that you got money from?
Oh yeah, I have some other folks. As I've said, I think publicly that I've raised probably approximately $200,000 for this.
Including what Mississippi Conservatives gave ($144,685)?
Including what Mississippi Conservatives has put down there, but according to the law at this point, some of that did not necessarily have to be disclosed in this particular filing, and so we didn't disclose it.
Was that because of the time frame, or was it because of the amount, or why was that?
Some of it is more time frame. Some of it will come out in the next filing. There is no intent to deceive or anything like that because hey, I mean, what is public record will be public record.
When do you plan to file the next report?
Well, the FEC actually has guidelines for that, just like June was a filing date, and for us, because our PAC was actually started in June, then everything from that start date to the end of June we had to actually report within those guidelines. So that means both income and expenses that would not have been shown in this.
So the money that was raised in June is all filed here?
The money that was raised in June is there.
So there weren't any funds besides from Mississippi Conservatives raised in June?
Actually there was. There was some other funds. It's small, but that is actually a discrepancy—one of the discrepancies that you say there, is actually 2,600 and something dollars.
Yeah, there's a discrepancy that I'm pretty sure you're going to ask about between what Mississippi Conservatives say they gave us ($140,000) and what we said, what we reported ($144,685). If you look at that, actually that amount is 2,600 and so dollars. That 2,000 some dollars was actually other monies that was raised, besides from Mississippi Conservatives.
O.K., and it was kind of just accidentally—?
Yeah, when we made the deposit. So we will actually make the corrections on that. When we made the deposits on that, it was assumed that it was all one source, but actually it was two sources.
O.K., who was that other source?
I'll disclose that to them (FEC) when that comes, and they can make it public.
I know that there was a lot of door-to-door get-out-the-vote efforts. What exactly was that money (total $97,500) used for?
Well, we covered the state of Mississippi. I had people who were actually working for us all over the state, and those people had responsibilities to actually talk to people. First, we sought to encourage people to go do absentees—those who decided they would not be within their county at that point to vote absentee. Then, of course, we went out and rallied people to support Senator Cochran in the runoff. So we were very actively out there on the ground, knocking on doors, phone banks, talking to folks door to door, going to churches, civic groups all over the place, which is nothing unusual, I mean it's get out the vote in Mississippi and across the country.
Every one of these people, especially folks that got considerable amount of money—if you look from Credell Calhoun to Bill Washington to James Warren to Best Solutions to (Roosevelt) Daniels—all those people employed other people. So they had field workers. So it's not like those people got paid big lump sums of money for their service; those people employed other people in the field to do work. They oversaw all of our workers out in the field, so whatever they got, they spent every dime of it in the work.
Do you know about James Warren and the claims people are making about him?
Yeah, James is a wonderful person who's talkative sometimes and, per his words, he just got spouting off at the mouth and probably didn't recognize what he said—said some things that got him into some controversy. James Warren is one of the people in this community who does get-out-the-vote work for candidates. He's not new. He's a known commodity. He's very experienced. He's very good at what he does. He's a personal friend. I hired people who I knew could do the work and turn people out, and they did the work and turned people (out).
There have been alot allegations of vote buying. How did you ensure that that wasn't happening with your super PAC?
First, every one of the guys I hired got integrity. They are people who have integrity. They're trustworthy. They've been doing this a long time. They have high standards, and I know that they would not do this. Secondly, they do this for a living. They understand the legalities of what's legal and what's not legal. They understand that they are personally liable if they did something they weren't supposed to do. This is how these people make their living. They're not going to do something that they know that they're not supposed to do.
Then the other side of this is, if you look at the money that was spent in this—particularly from our side, I can only talk about it from our side—the reality is and the numbers, I'll use McDaniel's numbers which is that we helped turn 35,000 people, black folks, to the polls. I would think, too, not just black folks, I think there was white folks, Democrats and independents, by the way. Then the truth is, nobody's out here passing out dollar bills or 10-dollar bills to people in those kind of cases. There's not enough money here or that. Even the amount of money shows that's not possible, it's not feasible, it wouldn't be done.
It is, in a nice way, asinine—I can only speak on our side—to infer that anybody working with All Citizens did that. I'm not saying what anybody else in the state did. I know in terms of what we did, which is totally separate from what the Cochran campaign did because the legality says we didn't work with them. We did what we did. We made those decisions in terms of everything we did, from radio, newspaper, all those things. I didn't confer with any of those folks. We did all that. Messaging—we came up with the message for all of this. People in the field—I made those decisions. I hired those guys to do a job, and they're professionals, and they did it, and I think they did it very well.
Can you tell me what was the expense to Best Solutions?
Best Solutions is a get-out-the-vote—and certainly James Warren is affiliated with that group. That's one of his groups.
So it's a get-out-the-vote organization?
I'll put it to you another way. Basically I hired two major firms—that's Bill Washington and James Warren and his group. Those are the main two. So if you look at the money line of Best Solutions and James Warren, and you also compare that to Bill Washington's money line, I think you'll come up real close in terms of the money that was spent with my first line of people, and then I had another secondary line of people who worked as well.
So tell me about the radio ads that you did. What kind of money was spent there and which radio stations?
We spent approximately $23,000 on radio (in) stations across the state, and we worked with a company out of state that worked individual stations, so we paid those folks for that, and that payment wasn't made until July, so it didn't show up in this.
And who was that to?
To tell you the truth, at this point I can't tell you what their name was. I mean I think I saw in The Clarion-Ledger so it's public record out there.
I think so. You got to understand I had people working with me who were helping in all of this—
Absolutely. I understand. So the radio ads were purchased in June, June 20, before the runoff?
Before the runoff. Right.
But you didn't pay the group until July?
They extended some credit to us. They did. They believed they would get their money, and they did.
What is All Citizens' or your relationship with Mississippi Conservatives, and how did that kind of partnership happen?
I know a lot of people. Truth is, I know what a lot of people do. So I knew a number of the folks who were involved in All Citizens, and I approached them. Once again, they did not approach me. And (I) said, 'Listen, here's what I want to do, and I think I can help. Will you invest some money in me to do this?' And they did.
And what prompted you to create All Citizens?
That's a great question. I think most people know I've always been pretty politically active. I mean, I'm not a new face to politics, particularly in Jackson and the metro area. And as I watched all of this, I said, 'You know what? I'm involved. I'm going to be involved politically. Why don't I determine my own destiny?' And it was from that the idea came to start my own PAC. I then consulted with my lawyers and some other close friends and (they) said, 'Wow that's a god idea.' Because it doesn't exist much. I don't know of anyone else, particularly African Americans, I'm pretty sure there are, but I don't know folks who have one.
So we looked at the laws related to it—thought there wasn't anything burdensome we couldn't do, and said, 'Let's take a shot at it.' I'm a person of faith. I take risks all the time, so we took a risk in this, and it's been great.
I've kind of heard that Hinds County is the battleground of this whole election—at least there was a big effort to get people voting in Jackson. Is that accurate?
No doubt about it. The Delta, Washington County, Greenville, Greenwood area, metro Jackson, Hinds County particularly and Warren County were areas we focused a lot on—Hattiesburg, we did a lot of efforts in these areas. We knew, we felt really good about the fact that we could significantly increase the voter turnout for Senator Cochran in Hinds County. I think we proved that. We knew that from the very beginning that we needed at least 30,000 voters if he was going to be successful and win. ... I'm real pleased to say we were able to see that kind of number produced.
How did you coordinate your efforts with the Cochran campaign?
I didn't work with the Cochran campaign. Legally, I coordinated some efforts with Mississippi Conservatives, but I didn't coordinate any efforts with the Cochran campaign. That's illegal.
What's your relationship with former Gov. Haley Barbour?
Haley Barbour's a friend of mine. Haley Barbour's a good friend of mine. I think it's public record I supported Haley Barbour when he was governor. Haley Barbour remains a good friend.
Do you consider yourself a Republican?
I really consider myself an independent that votes candidates. I have voted Republican a lot just like I've voted Democrat a lot.
You were talking about race a little bit earlier, you know, you kind of targeted the black community, and you were talking about how you don't think African Americans typically create PACs and things like that—what kind of role did race play in this election and with the work you did in the election?
Race played a big role in this election. I think this race had a lot of racial tension around it, and certainly we didn't start that. I think that was very evident, in that black folks at first seemed to be excluded. So the title All Citizens for Mississippi—that's how I coined that. I felt like that was part of the citizenry that was excluded. I think that the rhetoric talked about things that my community was particularly concerned about in a lot of code words thrown around that honestly for us were very racist. So race was a huge factor in this.
Can you give me some specifics on that—code words that you took to be racist?
Sometimes it's a subtle nuance of how things are said in terms of, maybe, 'state rights.' It is a nuance. It is how it's referred to. Sometimes, you know, it is how you talk about, maybe, the Confederacy and other things such as that. How people might say, or you hear a lot in a sense, "our country back." OK, from who? Also a lot of the anti-President Obama things, so disrespectful, inflammatory. Well my community takes that as racist statements. So race was huge in this.
People ask the question, 'Well, are you a racist? You talk about turning black folks out.' Well, no, I talked obviously about—if you're going to enlarge the pool of voters to go over and win this campaign, who do those folks look like? Who are they? Well, they're probably African Americans. And so that would be the group that for me too who was excluded, who was not being talked to. So as a PAC, I saw my purpose as talking to that group of African Americans and other sympathetic whites and anybody else who would be listening, to actually get those people to go do what some of them had never done before and go vote Republican.
Do you think McDaniel is a racist?
I don't personally know Mr. McDaniel, and I can only take people at face value in terms of what I hear from him. So I want to give Mr. McDaniel the benefit of the doubt that he's not a racist, just like I'd want anybody to give me the benefit of the doubt. I don't think so. I hope not.
But you do think that he's bad for race relations?
I think Mr. McDaniel says things that if he doesn't know is insinuatory; then he needs to recognize that so he can change those tones and words. And if he does know it, then I think that he is catering to a base whose interests seem to be a little different from the people that I support and am a part of. I think Mr. McDaniel is a very smart man—I don't think Mr. McDaniel has gotten where he is in life (without being smart). He's a very successful man. He's a senator in this state. Mr. McDaniel is a very good lawyer. Smart guy.
I have heard in discussiosn that targeting black leaders to do ministry in politics is not an uncommon or new thing. Are you surprised by any of the reaction that you've gotten to what you're doing?
I think most people in the United States know that the African American church has always been quite involved in the politics that's in its community. The African American church and the African American preacher has always taken leadership in everything that affects his community and his people. Politics is one of those things. Legally, we understand the bounds of that.
It's just like here at New Horizon, and a good example is the PAC. At no time did I solicit the support of my own people here across the pulpit, using the church's database, no phone calls from me or other people in relationship to this because I understand appropriate bounds. I always have observed those bounds. I don't tell people who to vote for. My people have their own minds. They're very literate, and they know what's in their self-interest. I just make a case.
By the way, that's what we do and my workers do when we go out to places—we talk to community leaders. Some of those are preachers who frankly speak to their people about their self-interest. I understand years ago there might have been preachers who tell people who to vote for. That day is gone. We got an educated group of people out in that pew. Those people are not monolithic. They support a lot of different candidates. I don't tell anybody what to do. That's demeaning to my people to do so.
I've heard discussion that the messaging is manipulative to that community and does kind of tell people what to do, or is at least sending a message that might compel them to do something that they wouldn't normally do. What do you think about that?
I think that people utilize the social mediums that they have. In my community, we also have a medium that resides sometimes within church walls. It's another way just like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It is a medium to communicate community interests. That's all we do. People then make up their own minds.
So I totally reject anybody insinuating that African Americans don't have their own minds. Because the truth is, and this race is a good example, it was not a hard sell to get thousands of African Americans to get out there and go and do what for some of them they had never done and never thought they would do. Honestly, we did it in a weekend... . I didn't say anything. You listen to my radio spots, I didn't say anything that was that out of the way, that off. In fact, I think I told the truth. I simply took comments that I know that have been made by Mr. McDaniel. I took information I knew that Senator Cochran was strong on, (that) if his influence is not there, some of that goes away. And we came up with the spots. I appealed to people who were thinkers. Because the truth is, most of the folks who went out and voted were younger. They would have been younger, middle-aged and younger, African Americans who see their options totally different. Those people made the decision, 'Oh, this is my interest.'
You don't think you put fear in voters at all?
No. I'm not a fear mongerer.
You said just a minute ago that the church is like a medium for communications, but you don't think that conflicts with how you tried to separate yourself from the church?
First, on Sunday mornings, I didn't mention it. At New Horizon, I didn't mention it. All I said is, 'There's a race coming Tuesday, you need to go vote.' I didn't say anything other than that. I didn't say anything intentionally so people couldn't say I got up and railed and made long statements about whatever. My people listen to the radio. They read the newspaper. Actually, if people say that I did fear mongering, I doubt that. I think people heard Mr. McDaniel. I think Mr. McDaniel motivated the African Americans and whites, probably some Hispanics, too, who went out and voted. That's who motivated them. There's an interesting thing as I've looked at this race, a little subplot, because I don't know if it was intentional or not, but in Mr. McDaniel's campaign, they bought black radio, black formatted radio. There were a lot of people who probably never heard him, never heard what he stood for, what he was saying. They heard him very clearly. He woke those folks up. That's what was told to me. They didn't know Chris McDaniel from Adam until they heard him on the stations that they typically listen to and said, 'Ugh. This is awful.' So now the question is, 'Did the McDaniel campaign not know?'
Because, come on, people buy different radio stations and message differently in different communities. Did they not know they were buying black formatted radio? Or did they know they were buying black formatted radio and just decided they didn't care? I think the McDaniel campaign woke up black people out there, when I and others came along and said, 'By the way, you have a right, if you did not vote on June the third in the democratic primary, you have a right to go vote in the Republican primary.' And they did.
So explain to me what the appeal is for black voters, who would typically be Democrats, to vote Republican and, to you, is Cochran more in their best interest than, say, Childers?
First, Senator Cochran is a known commodity in the African American community. He has supported a lot of causes. He's been very even-handed. Honestly, I think most black people feel like he's been a good senator who represents the state, not just white state citizens. He represents all the citizens. Therefore, it was real easy to sell people on Senator Cochran. I think one of the points in this is (that) I don't necessarily know at this point if this could have happened with any other candidate. I think that Thad Cochran being who he is made it real easy and appealing for people to go vote for him.
It was interesting to me to see how Cochran's campaign tried to appeal to white voters, and then it was a totally separate message when they were appealing to black voters. Even just in the mediums that they used. They did one ad in The Clarion-Ledger, and then I don't even think they advertised with the Jackson Free Press, but you guys did.
Well, a lot of people we targeted are people who read the Jackson Free Press. Come on.
I know, I know. There's just something kind of funny to me that there was this complete other message for white voters. You know, there was the, 'He voted against Obamacare ... (more than 100) times,' or something like that.
It's code. It's code. Mississippi is a red state. The truth is, the majority of the citizens of the state don't support the Affordable Care Act, don't support the president who brought that forth. They don't just not support it, they're pretty varmintly opposed to it. Mr. Cochran as well as Mr. McDaniel understood that, and they were pandering to their base. Was that distasteful within the African American community? Absolutely.
I made a distinction between the primary race and the runoff. I think also, in my humble opinion, the Cochran campaign grossly misjudged what would happen in that election. I think they would say that, and I think they have said that, as well. They were not prepared. They did not think Mr. McDaniel was as strong a candidate. They did not apparently foresee the amount of discontent with the senator. I think a lot of people voted against Senator Cochran simply because they thought he'd been there long enough. I think that was part of the scenario as well. I think that his messaging didn't go over well. I think they turned that around in the runoff and to their credit.
So you have something pretty historic that happened which is you've got this huge turnout of people across the state of Mississippi in a runoff—in a primary, which is historic. So, it's interesting.
It seems like there's a lot of election practices that may be legal, but people aren't happy with it. They want election reform. Is there a way to win without participating in that? What do you think?
You know, it's federal law. I'm a federal PAC. I'm not a state PAC. It's not just Mississippi; this is how this happens across the country. I'm pretty sure that some of this is certainly not the best. It is the laws and policies of this country. One of the wonderful things about our system is that if people think it needs to be changed, you get our senators and representatives to amend laws. Until then, we've got to compete—ethically. For us, once again, and I've said this, we didn't do anything illegal nor unethical. First, I have integrity. I'm not going to do anything unethical.
Do you think conducting whatever it is that you do in an election ethically is the same thing as doing it legally?
No doubt. There are a lot of folks out there who may do something that's legal but it's not ethical. So certainly what's ethical is going to be legal. For us, it's both. I'm not going to demean myself. I'm not going to buy votes. I'm just not going to cross certain lines. I'm not going to do that. Once you start doing that kind of stuff, you've lost yourself in the midst of this. Certainly not I nor the people we hired, who work for us, were the kind of people who would honestly do anything unethical.
What was at stake if Cochran had lost? I know he's known for bringing federal money to Mississippi. What was your specific interest in keeping Cochran in?
My interest, once again, was in a candidate that I and my community know and we feel like we can trust who will, I believe, support what we feel is in the best interest of this state and likewise our community. We were interested in seniority. In a small state like Mississippi, seniority matters greatly. Especially if the Senate goes Republican, and it looks like there's a good possibility it will, then we've got a man who is able and been primed for that key position. He's been working for this key position all of his life, to be able to serve these people well, why would we throw that away? I had folks who agreed with me who saw every reason to support Senator Cochran.