Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday released a new TV commercial labeling a Tuesday ad from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley as “100% false.”
Presley’s Tuesday ad claimed that while Reeves has been in statewide office for several years, he helped steer millions of welfare funds “to help his rich friends.” The governor’s new ad pushes back on that assertion and says Reeves had “nothing to do with the scandal.”
“It all happened before he was governor,” Reeves’ ad said of the welfare scandal. “Tate Reeves has supported the prosecution to find the truth. And Democrat Brandon Presley, he doesn’t care about the truth.”
Several people have pleaded guilty to federal and state crimes connected to the welfare money scandal, mostly stemming from how millions of federal funds disbursed by the Mississippi Department of Human Services were mishandled.
Investigators and prosecutors have not alleged Reeves committed a crime related to the welfare scandal, nor have they indicated they’re investigating him in connection to the scheme that has so far led to several people pleading guilty to federal and state crimes.
But text messages previously obtained by Mississippi Today indicate Reeves inspired the state’s welfare agency in 2019 to indirectly pay Paul Lacoste, a fitness trainer, on a contract he received from a nonprofit in 2018 to provide a statewide boot camp program.
Lacoste told John Davis, the former MDHS director who has pleaded guilty to state and federal crimes, that Reeves had selected a date and location for a 2019 meeting about appropriating funds for Lacoste’s exercise program.
“Tate wants us all to himself!” Lacoste wrote at the time.
Two days after meeting, Davis asked his deputy to find a way to push a large sum of money to a nonprofit without triggering a red flag in an audit, to reimburse the organization for funding Lacoste’s boot camp. Davis called the project “the Lt. Gov’s fitness issue.”
Reeves’ office has denied he had any involvement in the scandal and labeled the communications with Lacoste as “inconsequential conversations.”
More recently, Lacoste said that it was former Gov. Phil Bryant, who directly oversaw the welfare agency during the scandal, that directed the welfare agency to work with Lacoste.
Since Reeves has been governor, his administration, through MDHS, has pursued civil litigation to recoup misspent dollars from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, including $1.3 million from Lacoste.
Pigott, at the time, claimed he was terminated because of political reasons, though Reeves and welfare agency leaders have rejected those allegations.
After Reeves’ Thursday ad, Presley’s campaign, in a news release, said the governor’s campaign was being disingenuous with the public by claiming he bears no responsibility for what state officials have described as the largest public embezzlement scheme in state history.
The Democratic candidate’s campaign highlights that the misspending occurred while Reeves was lieutenant governor and, as leader of the Senate, could have pushed lawmakers to conduct more robust oversight hearings of the state’s welfare agency.
“Tate Reeves will do or say anything to hide his role in the largest public corruption scandal in state history, where Tate Reeves blocked the investigation into $77 million lost, squandered, and stolen taxpayer dollars to protect his rich friends who received illegal payments for a horse ranch, a volleyball stadium, and even his personal trainer received a million dollars,” Presley spokesperson Michael Beyer said in a statement.
The rapid response to Presley’s ad from the governor’s campaign likely shows how much money Reeves is willing to spend on advertising throughout the election cycle and how hard he’ll work to push pack on efforts tying him to the scheme.
This is now the fourth ad Reeves’ campaign has pushed out this year. His previous ads have highlighted his advocacy for banning trans youth from competing in athletics programs, his efforts to recruit industries to the state and his administration’s response to natural disasters.