A group that supported Republican Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran in his re-election bid against state senator Chris McDaniel paid a controversial political consultant $44,000 to conduct political phone calls.
Henry Barbour, the head of Mississippi Conservatives PAC and the nephew of former Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour, confirmed for TheDC that the PAC paid Mitzi Bickers “to make paid calls to potential Cochran supporters.”
Bickers is the former head of the Atlanta School Board and a pastor at the city’s Emmanuel Baptist Church.
She is also a political operative who got into trouble last year after she failed to disclose a vast sum of income she earned working on campaigns.
Records compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks political spending, show that Mississippi Conservatives PAC paid two groups operated by Bickers — the Bickers Group and Pirouette Strategies.
Pirouette Strategies received $25,000 from the PAC on June 20; the Bickers Group received $19,660 on June 23, according to the Sunlight Foundation’s records.
Both expenditures went towards “GOTV (Get-out-the-vote) phone services.”
Last year, as an aide to Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, Bickers was forced to change her financial disclosure forms after WSB-TV 2 discovered that she had failed to report over $500,000 she earned on political campaign work she did in 2012. She eventually left the position.
Failure to disclose such information comes under the penalty of perjury.
Bickers was hired to target black voters, Barbour said. The demographic, which leans heavily Democratic, became a key focal point for the PAC and the Cochran campaign after the incumbent lost to McDaniel in the initial June 3 primary by 2,000 votes.
Under Mississippi’s electoral procedures, voters do not have to be registered Republicans in order to vote in the GOP run-off primary. Only people who cast votes in the Democratic primary would have been prevented from voting in the Republican race.
Cochran ultimately won Tuesday’s run-off by 7,000 votes.
The primary was one of the dirtiest in recent memory. Several McDaniel supporters were accused of conspiring to publish a picture of Cochran’s ailing wife, Rose, who resides in a Mississippi nursing home.
In the days leading up to the run-off, McDaniel supporters accused the Cochran campaign and its backers of race-baiting black voters through “robo calls” and flyers. The materials painted McDaniel as a tea party fanatic and claimed that, if elected, he would take the state’s blacks “back to the bad old days” and cut federal programs.
Barbour said he was not sure about the contents of Bickers’ calls but denied that she was involved in those particular robo calls.
“She and I talked message for calls, but I never heard them,” Barbour told TheDC.
While Barbour initially told TheDC that he thought that the robo calls were created by Bickers, he later said that she told him that she was not.
“Frankly, I thought it sounded like her voice, but she says not so,” Barbour told TheDC.
Asked about Bickers’ failure to disclose her consulting income, Barbour said “I don’t know her past at all.”
“She was recommended by a Mississippi mayor.”
Barbour said he was proud of the effort to bring Democrats, Independents and Republicans to the polls.
“I am pleased to say some people voting for Thad voted in their first GOP primary and I think for many it won’t be their last,” he said.