By Paul Gable
The political metamorphosis of Russell Fry in the last several weeks has been eye opening as Fry has gone from silence for six months on incumbent Rep. Tom Rice’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump to now attempting to be the biggest Rice critic and Trump supporter in the race for the Republican nomination for the 7th Congressional District seat.
As Fry has attempted to build his Trump message, he has styled himself as a strong conservative, small government, individual liberty candidate. However, during his political career to this point, Fry has been known as one of the “Chamber crowd” of politicians pushing the Interstate 73 message on voters.
Fry was one of the co-sponsors of a bill introduced into the legislature in 2019, which would have forced Horry County Government to donate all revenue from a countywide hospitality fee to the construction of an interstate highway rather than allowing county government to return the revenue collected within city limits to the cities and to spend the revenue collected in the unincorporated areas on other infrastructure and public safety needs to support the locals and tourists who pay the fee.
Sponsoring such a bill is hardly the action of a small government conservative.
Fry apparently got his start in local politics while a student in 2008 working as a consultant and providing other unspecified campaign services to former state Rep. Thad Viers. He again was paid for unspecified campaign services to Viers during the 2010 election cycle. Viers resigned his statehouse seat in 2012 and ultimately spent 18 months in federal prison for a money laundering conviction.
Shortly after graduating from law school and passing the bar, Fry formed the political consulting firm Crescent Communications, in early 2013, just in time to run the campaign of Mark Lazarus to fill the unexpired term of Tom Rice who resigned as Horry County Council chairman to enter Congress.
Lazarus won the special election, reelection in 2014 to a full term, then, lost in 2018. Fry and the other two members of the Crescent Communications team, Heather and Cam Crawford, ran all three campaigns for Lazarus, according to state ethics records.
Heather Crawford was already in the SC House of Representatives having won a special election to fill the unexpired term of Viers in 2012 and reelection in the 2012 general election for House District 68. Cam Crawford would soon win a special election for Horry County Council District 6 to fill the unexpired term of Bob Grabowski.
In 2015, Fry made it a trifecta of elected positions for the Crescent Communications team by winning a special election to fill the unexpired term of Nelson Hardwick in House District 106. All three received liberal donations from Chamber members, Chamber associated PACs and other special interests whose prime goal is the construction of I-73.
All three took every opportunity to have photo ops with Rice in the past and push the same I-73 agenda as Rice.
This joining of political consulting with elected officials and campaign donations from special interests can be problematic. It could be argued that combination led to Operation Lost Trust in South Carolina in the 1990’s and the more recent investigations into corruption at the statehouse that led to the downfall of the once powerful Quinn political consulting empire in Columbia.
Crescent Communications is certainly not the Quinn empire and Heather Crawford and Russell Fry certainly do not hold positions of power in the state legislature comparable to Bobby Harrell, Jim Merrill and Jim Harrison, all of whom resigned in the latest statehouse probe.
But, these attempts to dictate how and on what local governments must spend locally generated revenue is certainly an attempt at government overreach just as significant at the state and local level as the government overreach Fry recently accused the Biden administration of with respect to government employees and covid vaccination and testing at the federal level.
To date, the entire Fry campaign for Congress smacks of political opportunism infused with blather to blur the fact that he is really not the staunch conservative he professes to be.