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Who’s behind the ‘TANF Tate’ TV and billboard ads?


While Mississippians ride down the highway or stream their favorite TV show, they might spot a jarring digital ad with Republican Gov. Tate Reeves’s face connected to an obviously fake body sporting a set of chiseled six-pack abs.

“Show us your six-pack, Tate,” the TV ad’s narrator said. “Our tax dollars paid for it.” 

The message is a reference to Reeves’ friend and former fitness trainer, Paul Lacoste, who received over $1 million in federal welfare funds to promote a fitness program that state investigators believe he should have never received.

READ MORE: Gov. Tate Reeves inspired welfare payment targeted in civil suit, texts show

The first-term governor denies having any role in steering the welfare dollars toward Lacoste, who is also a defendant in an ongoing civil lawsuit filed by the state to claw back the misspent welfare dollars.

The clearly altered image may leave a comical and indelible impression on viewers, but the underlying tone and strategy are larger than the photoshopped image and message. 

The group responsible for the advertisement — the first apparent independent ad campaign of the 2023 governor’s race — is the New Southern Majority Independent Expenditure PAC, an affiliate of the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund. The group has invested more than $112,000 in the statewide election this year, making it one of the first outside groups to run ads in the Mississippi governor’s race. 

Brandon Jones, a former Democratic Mississippi lawmaker and the director of political campaigns for the SPLC, told Mississippi Today that the legal nonprofit recently decided to launch a PAC in the Deep South to further the organization’s goals of promoting policies that help marginalized communities. 

“We’ve just increasingly come to realize that it didn’t matter how good we were at filing lawsuits or how good we were at lobbying … if the elected officials on the other side of that were immovable, we were committing political malpractice by not engaging with that part of the equation,” Jones said. 

Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, no relation to Brandon Jones, also serves on the board for the PAC to guide the leaders on how it can support progressive candidates in Southern states. 

Since its inception last year, the group has largely focused on local races such as school boards and state prosecutors, but it opted to focus on Mississippi’s gubernatorial race this year, according to Brandon Jones, because it believes the crucial election signals a crossroad for the Magnolia State. 

“From our perspective, Gov. Reeves is the perfect example of why groups like ours exist,” Jones said. “He’s done nothing to improve the lives of people who desperately need their government to perform.” 

The action fund and its affiliate PAC cannot coordinate their strategies with a particular candidate, but they can run ads to oppose a particular candidate or issue, such as Reeves and the state’s welfare scandal.

The PAC launched a website, tanftate.com, to serve as a central hub for its ads and a source of information on how it believes the first-term governor is connected to the scandal, the group’s central focus so far.

Jones said the organization is creating new ads and plans to use them to interact with voters through the date of the statewide election. Reeves will compete against Democratic nominee Brandon Presley in the general election on Nov. 7. 

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