By Paul Gable
The Republican Party will have the opportunity Monday to convince the justices of the S.C. Supreme Court that it did follow state law and the May 2, 2012 ruling of the court in certifying candidates for the June 12, 2012 primary ballot.
The task will not be easy for party officials because documents released in the past month point to the fact that the party did not follow the law. In fact, charges of favoritism and cherry picking candidates for certification have been levied by unsuccessful candidates.
Two cases will be heard Monday. The first has the Florence County Democratic Party suing the Florence County Republican Party for certifying candidates who did not file in accordance with the law. The second has House District 105 candidate Bert von Hermann suing to have candidate Blake Hewitt removed from the ballot for not filing properly. Von Hermann is already off the ballot for the same reason.
The Florence County Republican Party submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court in which it acknowledged only one of the 15 candidates it certified for the June 12th primary ballot actually filed the proper paperwork on time.
According to the affidavit, seven of the candidates were incumbents making them exempt from the requirement to file a Statement of Economic Interests at the same time and with the same official as their Statement of Intention of Candidacy. This exemption supposedly lies in Section 8-13-1356(A) of state law. We’ll deal with the supposedly later.
Only one of the non-incumbents filed the paperwork properly. The remaining seven candidates are a problem for the county party, but some twisted logic was used to justify their being placed on the ballot.
According to the party, these other seven, although not officeholders, had announced their candidacy, which automatically made them public officials. Being public officials, they were exempt from the provisions of Section 8-13-1356(B) of state code because of Section 8-13-1356(A).
This twisted logic does not conform to the decision handed down by the Supreme Court and those seven candidates should have never been certified.
However, this logic was not only used in Florence County. In fact, it appears to have originated at state Republican headquarters in Columbia and permeated throughout the state.
Blake Hewitt was one of six candidates who filed an SIC with the Horry County Republican Party for House District 105. After the Supreme Court decision was handed down, none of the six candidates for House District 105 were certified by the county party.
However, Hewitt was later certified by the state party and is the only one of six individuals who filed an SIC for District 105 to make it to the June 12th ballot. The other five were eliminated from the primary due to not filing their SIC and SEI as prescribed by state law and ordered by the Supreme Court.
Hewitt’s certification was challenged before the SC Republican Party Executive Committee in early May. The committee upheld Hewitt’s certification and sent the following letter of explanation to complainant Mike Connett. Read letter here Connett Response
The letter demonstrates the convoluted logic of the party. Just announcing you’re candidacy, exempts you from being subject to state law regardless of what forms you have or have not filed, according to party officials.
The party has tried unsuccessfully to sell that logic to candidates who were not certified. They can try to sell it to the justices Monday.
The court’s decision could have an interesting effect on the June 12th primaries. Regardless of what it decides, the names of the candidates involved in the hearing will be on the ballot. It’s simply too late to remove them. How will that be handled?
Regardless of how the court decides, Monday’s hearing will not be the end of court challenges to candidates on the ballot. There are other candidates who have been certified in the same way and could be affected.
There is also the issue of incumbents, so far treated as if they are fully exempt from the filing law. However, section 8-13-1356(A) of state code exempts public officials (incumbents) if they have a “current” disclosure form on file.
There is no definition of “current” but other sections of state law require public officials to file a new SEI each year by April 15.
According to information on the S.C. Ethics Commission website, approximately one-third of the incumbents holding elected office in the General Assembly did not file an SEI by April 15, 2012. Does that put them in non-compliance of filing requirements and not eligible to be certified?
We submit it does, but challenges to determine incumbent certification will have to wait until after the primary voting. That should provide another interesting round of court hearings.
Investigative reporter David Wren of the Myrtle Beach Sun News has two excellent articles on this continuing filing controversy.