Gov. Tate Reeves answers questions from the media after signing qualifying paperwork to run for reelection at the Mississippi Republican Headquarters in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

RAYMOND — Gov. Tate Reeves refused to answer a question Wednesday about why he has not fulfilled a pledge to give away campaign donations from people who have pleaded guilty to multiple state charges involving Mississippi’s massive welfare scandal. 

The first-term Republican governor running for reelection told reporters at a Hinds County event that he will eventually donate at least $6,000 that he received from Nancy and Zach New, two central figures in the scandal, to a charity once the ongoing criminal and civil cases involving how federal welfare funds were misspent have concluded. 

But Reeves, at the same event, ignored a question from Mississippi Today seeking to clarify why, exactly, he’s waiting for the litigation to conclude to return the funds when the News pleaded guilty to multiple criminal charges at the federal and state levels more than a year ago.

“… You don’t get to follow around and ask the governor questions,” Reeves said in a tirade about Mississippi Today, refusing to answer the original question and several follow-ups. 

Note: Audio of Reeves’ full response can be found at the bottom of this article.

In April 2022, the News brokered a plea deal with federal and state prosecutors, where the two defendants pleaded guilty to counts of bribing a public official, fraud against the government and wire fraud in exchange for cooperating with federal investigators.

The ongoing investigations by state and federal officials are unlikely to change the News’ guilty status.

The impetus for lingering questions about their donations to the governor stems from a 2020 press conference Reeves conducted, where he promised to place the contributions in a separate bank account from his primary campaign accounts.

But Reeves admitted on Wednesday that he had not transferred that money into a separate account, and it remains stowed away in his campaign coffers that total more than $9 million.

“It currently continues to be in the same account,” Reeves said in response to a WJTV reporter’s question. “We have probably five or six different accounts situated through Friends of Tate Reeves as well as Tate for Governor, and those monies, $9,000 or somewhere in that range, will be refunded at the appropriate time.”

The News also pleaded guilty to separate federal charges that involved bilking millions in taxpayer funds for their now-shuttered private school — the same private school Reeves showcased in a 2019 campaign ad.

Reeves’ campaign has reused the 2019 campaign footage in recent ads for his current bid for the Governor’s Mansion.

The governor on Wednesday criticized the press for asking why he would continue using footage from a school previously operated by people who have pleaded guilty to several crimes. Still, he ultimately said his campaign decided to include the video because it made for “a good picture.” 

“I presume that the fact that those videos were shot over five years ago, and for whatever reason, I guess whoever did the editing decided that it was a good picture,” Reeves said. “And that’s the reason they put it in the campaign ad.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley has continued to attack the governor for his connections to people caught up in the scandal and for failing to adequately provide oversight to the state’s welfare agency during the eight years he served as lieutenant governor.

Presley again criticized Reeves at a campaign event in Tupelo on Thursday, though the governor has not been charged with any crime and has denied taking any part in the scandal.

Note: Click below to listen to the audio of the May 31 interview with Gov. Tate Reeves. WJTV senior political reporter Richard Lake and Mississippi Today’s Taylor Vance were the two reporters asking questions.

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Taylor, a native of Grenada, covers state government and statewide elections. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and Holmes Community College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Taylor reported on state and local government for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, where he received an award for his coverage of the federal government’s lawsuit against the state’s mental health system.