By Paul Gable
Campaign funds and the lax laws controlling them allow politicians the ability to do almost anything they want with donations they receive.
But, the donors and the voters have a right to know exactly what is being done with campaign funds just as they do with public money. How, why and to whom is it paid? What goal toward being elected or reelected is achieved by its expenditure?
This is why nearly $150,000 over a four year span from Rep. Alan Clemmons’ campaign fund to now Rep. Heather Ammons Crawford (she was only a SC House member for the final $2,250 of that amount) listed as contract and/or campaign services leaves many questions.
Clemmons had no opponent in either a primary or general election in 2008, 2010 and 2012 election cycles. Yet, Crawford was paid an average of $37,500 per year for four years from Clemmons’ campaign account.
The voters deserve to know exactly what work did Clemmons pay Heather Crawford for? Was it all associated with political functions?
Heather Ammons Crawford, her husband and current Horry County District 6 council member Cam Crawford and SC Rep. Russell Fry have a political consulting business called Crescent Communications.
By way of comparison to the Clemmons payments to Heather Crawford, three campaigns run by the firm for former Horry County Council chairman Mark Lazarus provide stark contrasts.
Crescent Communications provided consulting services for three Lazarus campaigns, a special election in 2013 and regular election in 2014 and 2018. In those three campaigns, Lazarus spent a total of approximately $300,000 from his campaign account, all for election purposes. Approximately $41,000 was the total sum paid to Crescent Communications for those three campaign cycles.
All three of the Lazarus campaigns were heavily contested elections. However, the total of $41,000 paid for consulting for those three contested elections is considerably less than the approximately $75,000 Clemmons paid to Heather Crawford for one election cycle in which he had no opposition.
The three campaigns for Lazarus demonstrate another issue with the lax laws of South Carolina regarding campaign funding.
Cam Crawford won the District 6 county council seat in a 2015 special election. In the three plus years Crawford served on county council with Lazarus as chairman, Crawford could be counted on to vote on any issue exactly as Lazarus wanted, whether it was Interstate 73, rezonings, land use regulations, land purchases by the county and budget provisions (or lack thereof), as examples.
After Lazarus was defeated in 2018 and lost his chairman position, Crawford supported keeping Lazarus’ buddy Chris Eldridge as county administrator to the point of helping block the firing of Eldridge and instead voting for a $350,000 buy-out of Eldridge’s contract long after it was obvious Eldridge had to go.
Again, the lax laws in South Carolina regarding ethics and political campaigns allow this sort of thing to happen. If a candidate hires you as a political consultant and you later serve with that candidate on a political body, you will certainly be sympathetic to that candidate’s issues when voting time comes if no laws prohibit such considerations.
In reviewing candidate filings with the S. C. Ethics Commission, one other current candidate’s campaign expenses gave me pause. Clark Parker, a candidate for Horry County Auditor, has raised $35,804 and spent $35,236 in this election cycle, according to his latest filing with the commission.
Of that amount, one individual, apparently no longer with the campaign, was paid slightly over $9,000 for undefined campaign work. Much of the rest has gone to office rent and refurbishment, utilities and other individuals for campaign services. The only expenses I saw that directly tie to raising a candidate’s election profile were the purchase of signs, pens and one ad for a total of approximately $6,600.
Lois Eargle has served as county Auditor for 28 years and I can’t recall her ever renting a campaign office. Certainly a candidate can waste campaign money in almost any manner they choose but doing so while presenting yourself as a ‘watchdog’ of the people’s money is disingenuous.