Corruption and dirty money charges seem to follow Mississippi Senate candidate Mike Espy around like a bad habit. The Democrat, who is facing a November 27 runoff election with Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), was indicted for accepting financial gifts in exchange for favors while serving as former president Bill Clinton’s agriculture secretary in the 1990s. He was acquitted despite the fact that a Big Ag giant was convicted of providing him with the illegal largesse.
Espy decided to up his game and go for some really dirty money.
Tyson Foods pleaded guilty in 1997 to giving Espy $12,000 worth of illegal gifts and agreed to pay $6 million in criminal fines and court costs. A Washington Post article at the time reported that “[s]ome Democrats have charged that three years and $8.5 million is too much time and money devoted to investigating petty corruption.”
With his own political party shrugging off his mere “petty” corruption, Espy decided to up his game and go for some really dirty money. Money covered with blood, that is. Espy signed up for a lucrative lobbying contract with an African despot, Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo.
A Little Corruption?
Gbagbo had been voted out of office in 2010 but refused to accept the election results, triggering violence in his nation that killed some 3,000 people and featured the rapes of more than 150 women as a political weapon, according to testimony given at his International Criminal Court trial. Not to mention the reported child labor and slavery that was rife in the country’s cocoa industry, which Espy was paid to promote by the Ivory Coast Cocoa and Coffee Board.
Espy claimed at the time that he walked away from the lobbying contract to “promote resumption of [Ivory Coast] cocoa sales the US,” when he discovered what was going on in the country. He said he only pocketed $400,000. But Fox News reports that Espy was indeed paid the full $750,000 of his lobbying contract, in direct contradiction of his claims.
Fox noted that Espy told The Hill on March 12, 2011, that he had “voluntarily suspended” his three-month contract with Gbagbo’s government after one month as the violence in Ivory Coast escalated. Fox reports that Espy, in fact, continued to be paid by Gbagbo and received full payment before suspending the contract only 15 days before it was to end – right before Espy lied to The Hill about only accepting partial payment.
Words or Actions: Which are Worse?
Mississippi newspaper The Clarion-Ledger reports the Hyde-Smith campaign has wasted no time in slamming Espy over the revelations. “Have you ever been paid $750,000 by a foreign dictator who is currently on trial for crimes against humanity? Mike Espy has,” read a press release from the campaign.
Hyde-Smith has been embroiled in controversy herself for oddly saying of a supporter she was praising, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” Supporters of Espy, a black candidate, have used the remark to conjure old images of blacks being lynched.
The strategy is not surprising, as it was suggested that Espy used the same strategy himself to help get acquitted during his corruption trial in 1998. The Washington Post reported at the time that Espy’s defense lawyers painted him as the first black politician elected to Congress in Mississippi since Reconstruction and a man who had made “history” with his appointment as Agriculture secretary, to a 12-person jury made up of 11 black Americans.
It will be interesting to see if a casual remark by Hyde-Smith can be played up by Democrats to be more harmful to black people than taking three-quarters of a million dollars to carry water for a tyrant on trial in an international court for actually having black people raped and killed in horrifying numbers.