No sign of Mississippi governor fulfilling pledge on campaign funds tied to welfare case

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Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves addresses supporters at a rally at Stribling Equipment in Richland, Miss., Wednesday, May 3, 2023. Reeves is seeking reelection to a second term. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. – Financial documents show no sign that Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has fulfilled his pledge to give away campaign donations from people charged with misspending welfare money in the state's largest public corruption case.

Reeves, a Republican, became governor in January 2020 after serving two terms as lieutenant governor.

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On Feb. 5, 2020, the state auditor announced former Mississippi Department of Human Services executive director John Davis and five other people had been arrested on charges related to misspending welfare money that was intended to help some of the poorest people in the U.S.

“Some of the people we now believe were involved in the former director’s apparent criminal schemes gave money to our campaign," Reeves said at a news conference the next day. “I can tell you right now -- anything they gave to the campaign is going to be moved to a separate, untouched bank account. ... Anything they gave the campaign will be there waiting to return to the taxpayers and help the people it was intended for. If that doesn’t happen, that money will go to a deserving charity."

Reeves said people are “innocent until proven guilty.”

“But I don’t want to campaign to hold onto that money for a second longer than we have to,” he said.

Two of those arrested with Davis were Nancy New, owner and director of the nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center and New Learning Inc., and her son Zach New, assistant executive director of Mississippi Community Education Center.

In April 2020, Nancy New and Zach New both pleaded guilty to charges in the welfare misspending case. They agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, and they both await sentencing.

Campaign finance documents show Reeves received donations totaling $2,500 from Nancy New from 2017 to 2019 and $6,000 from Zach New in 2019.

Reeves campaign manager Elliott Husbands did not respond to multiple messages from The Associated Press last week or Tuesday about what Reeves has done with the donations from Nancy New and Zach New.

A new Reeves campaign commercial uses video footage of him speaking at a private school that Nancy New operated. The school is now closed, and the footage is recycled from the 2019 campaign. WJTV reported that when it sought comment about that, the Reeves campaign responded: “The political donations from anyone who is connected to the TANF scandal will be donated to a worthy cause at the ultimate conclusion of the legal proceedings. Those cases are ongoing.”

TANF is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — the welfare program from which prosecutors said money was misspent.

Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat running for governor, has said the welfare misspending case shows a need for tighter ethics rules for state officials. Presley campaign communications director Michael Beyer criticized Reeves for holding onto donations from people who have pleaded guilty in the case.

“This once again confirms Tate Reeves is the most corrupt governor in Mississippi history," Beyer said.

Reeves reporting having more than $9 million in his campaign funds through the end of April, and the Presley campaign reported $1.6 million.

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