Myrtle Beach Cabal Pushing Influence in June Republican Primaries – Is it Legal?

By Paul Gable

With filing completed and the first campaign disclosure reports in, the choices in many of the June 14th Republican Primaries for local offices will be between candidates supported by the Myrtle Beach cabal versus candidates supported by the people.

In case you are confused about the makeup of the cabal, it is the development lobby that wants no restrictions and no impact fees on development in the county and the tourism lobby that continues to push for an ever more expensive proposed I-73 at the expense of local roads and other infrastructure. In other words, the group that wants to pad their pocketbooks at the expense of the taxpayers.

And because the cabal expects to pad their pocketbooks if their candidates win, it is showering the campaign accounts of its chosen candidates with dollars.

The main benefactors of cabal largesse so far are Mark Lazarus in the Horry County Chairman race, Jenna Dukes in Horry County Council District 1 and Carla Schuessler in the new House District 61. Lazarus and Schuessler are both former chairman of the Myrtle Beach Chamber board.

Lazarus has collected $138,000 in donations, Dukes received $96,000 and Schuessler received $42,000.

And one must question the due diligence the cabal uses in picking candidates to back because the word around the area is both Dukes and Schuessler have stronger ties to Democrats than Republicans.

Bill Howard, incumbent in Horry County Council District 2, may also be considered a cabal preferred candidate although he hasn’t begun collecting campaign donations yet. However, Howard donated $1,000 to Lazarus and is considered a safe vote on council for cabal interests.

Sifting through the campaign reports, Dukes received nine donations of $1,000 each from contractor Benji Hardee. Hardee reportedly convinced Dukes to run against incumbent Harold Worley because of personal animus toward Worley and his votes on county council. The nine donations are run through companies, llc’s and investment entities tied to Hardee.

The multiple donations through different business entities are a common tactic used by cabal members. Lazarus received four donations of $1,000 from entities tied to Keith Hinson of Waccamaw Land and Development as did Dukes from the same entities.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune is also a player in the multiple donation game to Lazarus, Dukes and Schuessler through various entities she owns and so is Burroughs and Chapin Vice President Tony Cox through several entities.

The above-mentioned donors and candidates all insist in quotes to local media that the multiple donations through various entities are legal.

State law section 23-13-1314 limits a person from giving more than $1,000 per election to candidates in local and statehouse races. However, the law defines persons as individuals, partnerships, corporations, investment trusts, syndicates, committees and on and on.

The intent of state law is to limit the influence of donors through limits on their donations. The question here is are multiple donations through various entities but controlled by one or a same group of individuals truly independent donations?

Another past Chamber chairman, local attorney Shep Guyton, was fined $33,000 by the State Ethics Commission three years ago for a scheme that funneled $183,000 in campaign donations through 14 different limited liability companies to various state and local office holders.

Just this week, Guyton was fined $5,000 and given a Public Reprimand by the S. C. Supreme Court regarding the same donations in Opinion No. 28091, filed April 13, 2022 in a negotiated settlement between Guyton and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

A portion of the Supreme Court ruling reads (the Respondent is Guyton):

“On January 15, 2019, Respondent and the State Ethics

Commission entered into a consent order in which Respondent admits that in 2009,

he engaged in an effort to maximize financial support to certain favored political

candidates running for local and statewide election. In connection with this effort,

on June 8, 2009, Respondent instructed his bookkeeper to order numerous cashier’s

checks that ostensibly derived from fourteen different limited liability companies

(LLCs). After the cashier’s checks were prepared by the bank, one of Respondent’s

employees delivered them to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce

(MBAC) office. The checks were then distributed to the candidates by the MBAC

chairman. In total, 148 cashier’s checks were issued in amounts totaling $183,000.

Respondent admits he personally funded these political contributions, as most of

the LLCs had little or no money of their own. Respondent further admits he had

previously provided these candidates the maximum political campaign contribution

allowed, and as such, the subsequent contributions were excessive as a matter of

law. Respondent admits he violated section 8-13-1314 of the South Carolina Code

by providing contributions to the candidates through fourteen LLCs in excess of

statutory contribution limits.”

The Supreme Court ruling finds that all the donations were by Guyton even though they were funneled through a number of limited liability corporations and given to various politicians. One of those llc’s included Lazarus as a partner.

The Supreme Court ruling would appear to draw into question the use of different business entities tied to the same person or persons, as described above, as being separate and distinct contributions and could be violations of state law.

It should be remembered, the donations funneled through the various llc’s by Guyton were paid to politicians on the state and local level responsible for the passage of the Tourism Development Fee legislation which has provided the Chamber with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars from 2009 to now.

It will be interesting to see if any ethics violations are alleged to the Ethics Commission or lawsuits introduced in district court to challenge the legality of the multiple donations from individuals.

In addition to the multiple donations from individual donors through various business entities they are associated with, Lazarus, Dukes and Schuessler received individual $1,000 donations from many realtors, developers, contractors, tourism business owners and the like. The cabal is out in full financial force for their favored, (dare we say controlled?) candidates.

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