Political Candidates and the Details

By Paul Gable

Filing of political candidates for local and state political offices ended Friday and the craziness, foolishness and inattention to detail that marks politics has already struck.

Already one candidate, Dick Withington, has been arrested and released on bail and the story surrounding that incident will play long after the June 2016 primaries are gone.

Withington was arrested for accepting money to drop out of the Horry County Council District 4 race in line with an email he sent to four members of county council soliciting the money. Withington claimed statements to local media that he accepted the money either as proof that he was being bribed or as a mysterious campaign contribution.

Despite the arrest, Withington has promised to continue with his campaign for county council as well as his campaign for SC Senate District 34.

If we assume the old political adage that any publicity is good publicity, Withington is already leading in the name recognition area for the two races in which he is a candidate. Somehow, I don’t think that rule applies in this case.

In the 2012 election cycle, failing to file a Statement of Economic Interests at the same time that Statement of Intention of Candidacy papers are filed cost over 50% of candidates that year a place on the ballot.

Failing to file an SEI at the proper time will no longer keep a candidate off the ballot (the state law was changed in the 2013-14 legislative year). But, that failure can draw fines for a candidate from the Ethics Commission.

It only took me a spot check on the SC Ethics Commission website of two Horry County Council races to find failure to file an SEI is still a problem.

In the special election for Horry County Council District 7, Republican candidate Mike Roberts filed an SEI properly while Republican candidate Robert Shelley was several days late in his filing. The Democratic side was even worse. Candidate Orton Bellamy filed his SEI properly while candidates Harold Phillips and Lee Sherman have yet to file an SEI.

Candidates in Horry County Council District 8 were better. Devon Blackwell filed his SEI on time while candidate Danny Hardee was late in filing his SEI but did manage to get it in several days after filing closed.

Maybe that’s a big thing, maybe it’s not, but I expect candidates for political office, as well as incumbent office holders, to be able to read state and local laws and to follow both the letter and spirit of those laws. Many of our difficulties with government stem from that simple problem.

Campaign disclosures of contributions are known to cause problems every election cycle, especially in the area of fundraising events held for candidates.

These events are often mishandled in the manner in which they are reported, especially when tickets are sold for the event. Buying a ticket is a campaign contribution.

However, ticket sales are often bundled together with the gross total reported under contributions. I submit that each ticket sold must generally be reported as an individual contribution. This is especially true of cash sales. Cash contributions are treated very specifically under state law Section 8-13-1314.

“SECTION 8‑13‑1314. Campaign contribution limits and restrictions.

“(A) Within an election cycle, no candidate or anyone acting on his behalf shall solicit or accept, and no person shall give or offer to give to a candidate or person acting on the candidate’s behalf:

“(2) a cash contribution from an individual unless the cash contribution does not exceed twenty‑five dollars and is accompanied by a record of the amount of the contribution and the name and address of the contributor;”

Scanning the October 14, 2015 Campaign Disclosure Report of Horry County Clerk of Court candidate Renee Elvis, this appears to have been reported improperly.

The Elvis report lists a contributor as “Chicken Bog” on 09/13/2015 with a contribution of $1,607.00.

There is another section of state law, SECTION-8-13-1324, which allows anonymous donations of less than $25.00 if a ticket is sold and all or a portion of the ticket sales go toward defraying the cost of food and beverages.

However, in the Elvis case, according to the 10/14/2015 disclosure report, there is a contribution of $800.00 listed from Plants Direct on 09/13/2015 and an equivalent campaign expenditure of $800.00 to The Kitchen on 09/13/2015 with the notation “Plants Direct paid for the food for a fundraiser.”

This appears to make the entire total of $1,607.00 of anonymous donations reported as improper since the food was paid for by a separate source, not ticket sales.

Attention to detail is something we expect from those we elect to office. The ‘devil is often in the details’ for those in public office acting on behalf of the citizens.

We are literally only a few days into this election season and, already, details are being missed.

 

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