Attempting to keep political decisions free from outside influence has been a problem virtually since the beginning of the American Republic.
During a recent county council meeting, a woman told council members she was involved in a group that was studying campaign donors and votes on projects the donors were involved with in order to see if any council members were apparently giving preferential treatment to their donors.
But the question of influence is not restricted to campaign donations.
SC Code 8-13-700 states:
(A) No public official, public member, or public employee may knowingly use his official office, membership, or employment to obtain an economic interest for himself, a family member, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated.
(B) No public official, public member, or public employee may make, participate in making, or in any way attempt to use his office, membership, or employment to influence a governmental decision in which he, a family member, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated has an economic interest.
A politician who is a principal in a political consulting business that accepts consulting fees from a candidate then endorses or arranges endorsements from other politicians can appear to be using their official office to help the election of a candidate from whom they are accepting fees.
This is the case of Crescent Communications, in which Russell Fry, Heather Crawford and Cam Crawford all participate as campaign consultants. In both 2016 and 2018, Crescent Communications ran the campaigns of local politicians who were later endorsed by one or more of the Crescent Communications crew. Two attorneys I spoke with believe this violates SC Code section 8-13-700 stated above.
Now Fry is running for Congress. Instead of using his associates in Crescent Communications, he has hired Ivory Tusk Consulting, in which fellow SC House member R. J. May is associated. It will be interesting to see what endorsements, if any, Fry obtains in this race and from whom they come.
Influence can be more subtle than money.
As a member of the SC House, Alan Clemmons not only endorsed, but also heavily campaigned for the election of Stephen Goldfinch as senator, the election of Case Brittain as a representative and the reelection of Sen. Luke Rankin.
Clemmons hired Heather Crawford before she was elected to the SC House to do consulting and constituent services for him. Clemmons’ campaign account filings show he paid Crawford $150,000 over the course of five years for these services but failed to replace her when Crawford was elected to be a representative.
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The political metamorphosis of Russell Fry in the last several weeks has been eye opening as Fry has gone from silence for six months on incumbent Rep. Tom Rice’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump to now attempting to be the biggest Rice critic and Trump supporter in the race for the Republican nomination for the 7th Congressional District seat.
As Fry has attempted to build his Trump message, he has styled himself as a strong conservative, small government, individual liberty candidate. However, during his political career to this point, Fry has been known as one of the “Chamber crowd” of politicians pushing the Interstate 73 message on voters.
Fry was one of the co-sponsors of a bill introduced into the legislature in 2019, which would have forced Horry County Government to donate all revenue from a countywide hospitality fee to the construction of an interstate highway rather than allowing county government to return the revenue collected within city limits to the cities and to spend the revenue collected in the unincorporated areas on other infrastructure and public safety needs to support the locals and tourists who pay the fee.
Sponsoring such a bill is hardly the action of a small government conservative.
Fry apparently got his start in local politics while a student in 2008 working as a consultant and providing other unspecified campaign services to former state Rep. Thad Viers. He again was paid for unspecified campaign services to Viers during the 2010 election cycle. Viers resigned his statehouse seat in 2012 and ultimately spent 18 months in federal prison for a money laundering conviction.
Shortly after graduating from law school and passing the bar, Fry formed the political consulting firm Crescent Communications, in early 2013, just in time to run the campaign of Mark Lazarus to fill the unexpired term of Tom Rice who resigned as Horry County Council chairman to enter Congress.
Lazarus won the special election, reelection in 2014 to a full term, then, lost in 2018. Fry and the other two members of the Crescent Communications team, Heather and Cam Crawford, ran all three campaigns for Lazarus, according to state ethics records.
Heather Crawford was already in the SC House of Representatives having won a special election to fill the unexpired term of Viers in 2012 and reelection in the 2012 general election for House District 68. Cam Crawford would soon win a special election for Horry County Council District 6 to fill the unexpired term of Bob Grabowski.
In 2015, Fry made it a trifecta of elected positions for the Crescent Communications team by winning a special election to fill the unexpired term of Nelson Hardwick in House District 106. All three received liberal donations from Chamber members, Chamber associated PACs and other special interests whose prime goal is the construction of I-73.
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As a new push begins for local funding of the Interstate 73 project, Horry County School Board Chairman and 7th Congressional District candidate Ken Richardson has taken a novel approach on the I-73 issue.
Over the past several days, local media has highlighted I-73 propaganda statements by local politicians who, along with the special interests who fund their campaigns, search for $250 million in local government revenue to pledge to the I-73 project.
Interstate 73 has always had a top-down sales approach to voters. Special interests and their PACs, who believe they will gain financially in some way from the construction of I-73, fund the campaign chests of local politicians who then become spokespersons trying to convince voters that I-73 is actually for their (the voters) benefit.
Richardson has taken a different approach. As he travels around Horry County and the other seven counties that make up the 7th Congressional District, Richardson asks voters whether they support the construction of I-73.
“I have given over 50 speeches to groups as small as 6 to as large as 120 since I announced my challenge to Tom Rice for the Republican nomination for the 7th Congressional District,” Richardson said. “During every speech, I ask for a show of hands from those in attendance who support I-73. So far, in all those events, only one hand has been raised.”
Richardson spoke of one woman at an event in Florence. “She said to me, ‘we always hear how interstates will bring new jobs. Well, we already have two interstates in Florence and we haven’t seen 300 new jobs in the last 10 years.’”
Richardson said a common theme he hears is that local governments and the state government should fix the roads and bridges they already have in place rather than building a new road that won’t be maintained either.
The I-73 project has been a subject of discussion by special interests and the politicians they donate to for at least 30 years. It ramped up nearly 20 years ago when Brad Dean took over the reins of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
Horry County has already spent over one-half billion dollars of locally generated hospitality fee (tax) revenues building SC-22. The last approximately 22 miles of I-73 will be on SC-22 from near the 319 exit to the terminus in the Briarcliffe Acres area. SC-22 will need some upgrading on the shoulders to meet interstate highway standards.
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Last week GSD published an article about discrepancies in several Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) press releases regarding an upcoming vacancy in the position of Horry County Master in Equity.
The story posed questions about the varying timeline of the time of the vacancy included in those releases.
After the story was published, David Hucks, editor of MyrtleBeachSC.com, sent an email to JMSC staff attorney Erin Crawford and commission members Sen. Luke Rankin and Rep. Todd Rutherford with a link to the GSD story requesting clarification of why the differing timeline was issued by the JMSC.
On Monday, Crawford sent an email response to Hucks. Both emails were shared with GSD.
Explaining why a media release was sent on 6/22/20 advertising for applications to JMSC for the Horry County Master in Equity position but the position was deleted from an amended press release four days, Crawford said, “JMSC issued a media release on June 20, 2020 announcing screening for Horry County Master in Equity (Judge Howe’s seat) and the successor to serve a new term to expire December 31, 2027. Since the new term would not begin until January 1, 2022, a subsequent media release was issued, deleting the seat from the 2020 screening.”
However, both the original media release and the amended media release listed Greenville County Master in Equity Charles B. Simmons, Jr., term ending December 31, 2021, as a position requesting applications for screening. No explanation as to why the Greenville County Master in Equity vacancy would be treated differently by the JMSC than the Horry County Master in Equity position.
According to the appointment message sent to the S. C. Senate by Gov. Nikki Haley on March 5, 2015, Howe was appointed to a six-year term beginning July 31, 2015 and ending July 31, 2021 so the Howe vacancy should have remained open for applications.
Crawford said in her email that the JMSC discovered the error in the date ending Judge Howe’s current term in Spring 2021.
Crawford went on to say in her email, “The media release issued on June 21, 2021, listed the Horry Co. MIE term as expiring June 30, 2027, when most judges end their term, instead of July 31, 2027. Masters in Equity terms are determined by implementation in their individual counties, not the schedule of most statewide judges. Pursuant to SC Code Section 14-11-20, Masters In Equity are appointed by the Governor (with the advice and consent of GA) for a term of 6 years and until their successors are appointed and qualify.”
Crawford failed to address why Judge Howe’s term was discovered by JMSC to end July 31, 2021, but was listed in a June 2021 JMSC media release as ending July 31, 2027. As Crawford stated, Master in Equity judges are appointed for six years and until their successors are appointed. How did Howe’s appointment in office get extended by six years? No Explanation!
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Fry and Other 7th Congressional Candidates Looking to Score Political Gain from Afghan Suicide Bombing
By Paul Gable
Having spent 10 years on active duty in the U. S. Navy, I find the loss of life in the line of duty by any servicemember to be a time of tragedy and sorrow not something you try to use for personal gain.
Therefore, when 13 servicemembers lost their lives to a suicide bomber at the Kabul airport last week, I was appalled at how quickly four of the candidates for the South Carolina 7th Congressional District Republican nomination tried to score political points from these deaths.
Two, incumbent representative Tom Rice, who is still trying to get back into the good graces of Republican voters after voting to impeach former President Donald Trump, and Graham Allen, who lives across the state from the 7th Congressional District and remains a total unknown to most of the Republican voters in the district, called for President Joe Biden to immediately resign.
Political newcomer Jeanette Spurlock called for the immediate impeachment of Biden.
And state representative Russell Fry, who is trying mightily to gain the endorsement of Trump by any means possible called for Biden to appoint Trump as a special envoy to Afghanistan to oversee the continuing withdrawal of American servicemembers and civilians still in the country at the time.
All of these called for actions are outrageous in that none of them are going to happen. And these candidates know they won’t happen.
Why do it?
Because Allen and Spurlock, two of the outsiders in the race, hope their statements will resonate and gain them some traction and name recognition with the many pro-Trump voters in the 7th Congressional District.
Rice, after drawing continuing criticism from Republican voters for his vote to impeach Trump, is grasping for any available lifeline in an attempt to keep his chances for a sixth term in Congress viable.
Fry’s special envoy proposal is more calculated. After failing to criticize Rice for six months for Rice’s vote to impeach Trump, Fry decided to enter the race and contest the GOP primary election for the nomination for the 7th Congressional District.
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