Politicians for Sale?

By Paul Gable

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:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Now, as an applicant for the position of Horry County Master in Equity, Clemmons needs the votes of the above four to be recommended for appointment by Gov. Henry McMaster. Could this be perceived to fall into the category of ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine?’

In the realm of campaign contributions directly, we have seen the specter of Interstate 73 project again arise. Three of the politicians pushing the idea in local media that I-73 is a necessary project are Horry County council member Dennis DiSabato, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune and SC Representative Case Brittain.

For nearly 20 years, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and its leaders have been pushing for the construction of I-73 at least to an I-95 connection.

A perusal of the campaign disclosures of each of the above three political officeholders shows considerable donations from Chamber PACs, influential Chamber members and others in the business community with a specific financial interest in the I-73 project to one or more of the above.

Is it mere coincidence that all three are now aggressively pushing for funding from local governments for the construction of I-73?

As we move into the fall city election season followed by the spring primary season for county, state and federal candidates, it would be well for voters to study the candidates and their public disclosures to determine whether they represent the voters’ interests or special interests!

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