Democrat Larry Bradford alleges Republican incumbent Auditor Shad White has not been transparent in his investigation of Mississippi’s massive welfare scandal.
Bradford, who is challenging White in the Nov. 7 general election, also says White has a conflict of interest in the case because the welfare scandal occurred during the administration of former Gov. Phil Bryant, whom White is linked to professionally. White served as Bryant’s campaign manager in 2015, and Bryant appointed White to the vacant auditor’s post in 2018.
As the election approaches, state and federal investigations continue into the misspending of federal welfare funds. Various Democratic candidates for statewide office are trying to make the welfare scandal and broader corruption a campaign issue, given that the scandal occurred under the watch of Republican officials and their allies. The welfare funds were intended for the state’s poorest citizens, but instead were spend on such items as volleyball courts, drug company investments, fitness programs and other questionable activities.
White’s campaign says Bradford’s allegations about the welfare scandal are unfounded.
“Auditor White’s team uncovered the largest public fraud in state history and put a stop to it,” said Quinton Dickerson of the White campaign. “Maybe Mr. Bradford hasn’t read the news, but Auditor White turned everything over to the FBI years ago, and they have since taken the lead in investigating and prosecuting any new individuals in the scheme. Mr. Bradford might want to pick up a newspaper and get up to speed.”
At a recent news conference, Bradford said, “From the time he served as former Gov. Phil Bryant’s campaign manager to when he was appointed state auditor, White has been a lackey for Bryant’s cronies and a shill for the rich and powerful … White is setting a personal tone for corruption and cronyism. He must be removed from office.”
Dickerson pointed out White’s office released a nearly 200-page report detailing the misspending of the $77 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Family funds. Thus far, multiple people close to Bryant, including John Davis, the former governor’s appointed director of the Department of Human Services, have pleaded guilty to charges related to the welfare scandal.
In 2020, then-U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst of the Southern District of Mississippi said he was not notified by the state auditor’s office as would normally occur when federal money, such as the TANF funds, were misspent. White said he opted to work on the investigation with Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens, a Democrat, to move as quickly as possible on the case to prevent the additional misspending of the funds. But now federal officials are investigating the case.
Bradford also challenged White to three debates this cycle to allow the incumbent “to defend his inaction and misinformation.” White ignored the requests for debates.
Dickerson countered Bradford has missed the last two campaign finance report filing deadlines, “violating state law and hiding how he’s spending his money. When he starts acting like a serious candidate, Auditor White will start treating him like a serious candidate.”
Bradford, a Panola County native, is the former mayor of Anguilla. He is running his first statewide campaign.
While White is running for his second full term as auditor, he is facing his first opposition. He was unopposed in 2019, his first campaign for the office of auditor after being appointed to the post in 2018 to fill the vacancy created when then-Auditor Stacey Pickering stepped down before his term was completed.
White recently touted that $70 million in misspent funds have been recovered during his tenure, “more than any five-year period in history.”
White is often active on social media, offering opinions on various topics. He recently received attention for his social media posts claiming it was a waste of taxpayer money for public universities to offer degrees in certain areas of study.
“Honestly, I have no idea why Mississippi taxpayers should pay money to educate an urban studies or women’s studies major. These programs are basically indoctrination factories. How about nursing, managerial economics, mech engineering instead?” he posted on social media.
White also has been critical of diversity programs at state universities.
Bradford said such issues are not related to the responsibilities of the auditor’s office. He said the auditor should be offering solutions of how to improve the state’s economy and stop population loss.
Bradford said White is focusing on those issues to try to distract from his shortcomings in the welfare investigation.