A recent court decision in Beaufort County could have an interesting impact in Myrtle Beach.
Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles ruled the Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce must allow public access to information regarding how the chamber spends public funds under the provisions of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Law.
Hilton Head businessman Skip Hoagland brought a lawsuit for access to the chamber’s records of how public funds are spent. At issue were the accommodations tax monies that the chamber receives from the towns of Hilton Head and Bluffton as well as Beaufort County and grant money from the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
The Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce argued its records were not subject to FOIA requests since it is a private, non-profit organization.
In his ruling, Nettles noted the SC Freedom of Information Law defines, “any organization, corporation or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds,” as a public body.
Nettles also noted that while the chamber provides a budget and accounting summary of how those funds are spent, neither provides specific information on, for example, vendors used.
The MBACC receives approximately $5 million per year from City of Myrtle Beach accommodations tax collections and approximately $22 million per year from the city’s one-cent tourism sales tax. In addition, the MBACC receives approximately $6 million from Horry County accommodations tax collections and approximately $5 million or more annually from SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism grants.
The MBACC uses those funds for “out-of-area” tourism marketing. Through the years, the MBACC has been criticized by non-members for giving preferential treatment in its marketing efforts to chamber members even though public funds are being used to fund them.