Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley speaks about Gov. Tate Reeves' involvement in the state's welfare scandal during a press conference in front of the Governor's Mansion in Jackson on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Brandon Presley, the Democratic nominee for governor, alleged that when his political opponent Gov. Tate Reeves fired the attorney working to recoup misspent welfare dollars, it led to a spike in fundraising donations for the Republican official. 

Speaking in front of the Governor’s Mansion in downtown Jackson on Monday, Presley said that when state officials decided not to renew attorney Brad Pigott’s contract to claw back the misspent money, people affiliated with the University of Southern Mississippi began donating to the first-term governor’s reelection campaign.

“When he ran for lieutenant governor, he said a watchdog is exactly what I’ll be,” Presley said of Reeves. “And we know he’s never been a watchdog. He’s been a lapdog. A lapdog for lobbyists, a lapdog for special interests, a lapdog for the monied interests in Mississippi.”

Clifton Carroll, a spokesman for the Reeves campaign, called Presley’s Monday press conference an act of “mental gymnastics” because, in essence, he is “trying to say any supporter of Southern Miss must be disavowed.” 

“The bad actors in this case have been sued by the Reeves administration, and calling all Southern Miss supporters corrupt is offensive and, frankly, exactly what you’d expect from a campaign run by the DNC — not Mississippians,” Carroll said. 

READ MORE: What exactly is Gov. Tate Reeves’ involvement in the welfare scandal?

A former federal prosecutor, Pigott filed a July 11 subpoena on the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation about the $5 million it received in federal welfare dollars it received to build a volleyball stadium on its campus. 

Roughly a week after Pigott filed the subpoena, leadership with the Mississippi Department of Human Services, an agency directly overseen by Reeves, decided not to renew the attorney’s contract.

Pigott believed his sudden termination was politically motivated because Reeves’ office wanted him to block the USM Athletic Foundation from scrutiny. But MDHS leaders and Reeves said the contract was terminated, in part, because a larger law firm was needed to ramp up the evidence collection process with the civil lawsuit. 

READ MOREWelfare head says surprise subpoena led to attorney’s firing. Emails show it wasn’t a surprise.

MDHS leadership later contracted with the Jackson-based branch of Jones Walker, a New Orleans-based law firm, to take over the civil litigation to recoup the misspent money. The law firm has since added the USM Athletic Foundation to its lengthy list of defendants in the civil suit. 

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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.