McDaniel camp returns funds
Wednesday, July 16, 2014 1:00 PM
Chris McDaniel's campaign refunded $2,599 to a woman previously listed as a campaign staffer who's now one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit alleging voter fraud in the June 24 U.S. Senate Republican primary, records show.
Federal Election Commission reports show the $2,599 that was initially disbursed for payroll before later being clarified as a refund.
The woman, Elaine Vechorik, of Sturgis, donated $2,599 to the general election and $2,600 to the primary election on Oct. 17, 2013. Her husband, Craig Vechorik, also donated $2,600 to the primary, records show.
Vechorik says she was never a staffer and blamed a "computer glitch," while the campaign said the refund was due to a "clerical error."
McDaniel lost the June 24 run-off to incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran by more than 7,000 votes. At a press conference on Wednesday one of McDaniel's attorneys claimed there's enough evidence to challenge the election, but he said they're still gathering evidence. (See Story, page 1A.)
Vechorik was questioned in the Rose Cochran nursing home incident that occurred in April, but she was not charged, Madison County District Attorney Michael D. Guest said on Wednesday.
A New York Times article on Sunday about the contentious Mississippi Senate race mentioned a fifth person of interest in the nursing home case and Guest confirmed that person was Vechorik.
"As part of the investigation she was spoken to by members of law enforcement regarding connections she had with [the accused] conspirators and was originally considered a suspect in the investigation," Guest said. "It was determined that evidence did not exist to file charges at the time."
In May, four people were charged with a criminal conspiracy to sneak into St. Catherine's Village in Madison on Easter Sunday and photograph Rose Cochran, Sen. Cochran's wife, who has dementia and has been living here for nearly 15 years.
"No, I'm not the fifth person and I have no comment at this time," Vechorik said in an e-mail on Wednesday.
According to the Friends of Chris McDaniel's quarterly Federal Election Commission (FEC) filing on April 18, 2014, there was a "payroll" disbursement of $2,599 to Elaine Vechooh.
The date of disbursement was on Jan. 1, 2014. The disbursement was for "Primary." The address listed was a McDaniel campaign post office box in Laurel.
According to an amended April filing on June 11, 2014, there was a clarification that the Vechorik disbursement was for a contribution refund and not for payroll. The clarification also corrected the spelling of her name from Vechooh to Vechorik.
McDaniel campaign spokesperson Noel Fritsch on Wednesday called the refund a "clerical error" and said that "you can make a story of it, but it's kind of silly."
He said the transfer was a refund of general campaign contributions following the loss in the primary runoff.
But, the amended FEC filing was in April before the run-off on June 24 McDaniel lost by more than 7,600 votes.
When asked directly, Fritsch would not say whether or not Vechorik had ever been a paid campaign staffer.
Vechorik on Wednesday denied ever working for or being paid by the campaign. She offered a different reason than Fritsch on why the FEC reports listed her on the payroll.
"When McDaniel's campaign first began, I donated for myself and husband," she wrote in an email. "There was a computer glitch and I paid 3 max donations. I asked the McDaniel campaign correct that. They issued a refund."
She said a reporter asked her about the payroll disbursement and that's when she realized the refund was listed as payroll.
"I contacted them and asked for a correction," she said. "I was assured it would be made."
Vechorik said she had copies of credit card statements showing the three maximum payments.
Vechorik has been a highly outspoken supporter of McDaniel and critic of Cochran.
Vechorik is on the Oktibbeha County GOP Executive Committee and is vice president of Mississippi for Liberty, a tea party organization.
The McDaniel campaign has only issued two refunds totaling $2,954 -one to Vechorik and one to Friends of Mary O'Keefe Cultural Center for $355, according to FEC records.
Vechorik is one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit by True the Vote against the Mississippi GOP and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
Also named defendants in the federal lawsuit were the election commissions in nine Mississippi counties, including Madison.
The suit was initially filed in federal court in Oxford but later refiled in the southern district in Jackson.
The Hon. Nancy F. Atlas, senior U.S. District judge for the southern district of Texas, was assigned the case after Judge Henry Wingate of the southern district in Jackson recused himself.
The crux of the lawsuit is that McDaniel supporters should have access to original copies of voter books instead of copies redacting birthdays and partial social security numbers. True the Vote also argues there should be no cost associated with redacting the information.
On behalf of Mississippi for Liberty, a non-profit organization focused on constitutionality, freedom and liberty, Vechorik sent out a message this week regarding the lawsuit.
"True the Vote is leading the way with the lawsuits," the message said. "They trained over 200 McDaniel volunteers to evaluate the voting system in each county. I was one of those 200. It's a mess in the counties we reviewed, and some counties would not allow the examiners, which resulted in writ of mandamus for clerks."
In addition to True the Vote, the McDaniel campaign filed multiple lawsuits this week against several circuit clerks, including: Attala, Benton, Choctaw, Greene, Harrison, Jackson, Jones, Lafayette, Leflore, Montgomery, Neshoba, Oktibbeha, Rankin, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tippah, Tunica, Union and Washington Counties.
Madison County Circuit Clerk Lee Westbrook was not named separately as in some counties.
Madison County Board of Supervisors attorney Mike Espy is involved with the case because Westbrook is keeper of the voter records.
A Madison County person knowledgeable of elections but who asked not to be identified in the newspaper said The True the Vote lawsuit is a waste of taxpayer resources.
"They don't understand Mississippi election law," the person said. "They're from out of state. They don't have any Madison County plaintiffs. And they want copies of the poll books without paying for them as the Cochran and McDaniel campaigns have done."