Taxes, Coastal Kickback and the Primaries

Coastal Kickback, Primary Elections and Taxes

By Paul Gable

Two of the most extraordinary events I have ever seen occur so close to an election happened this week in Horry County.

The Myrtle Beach city council announced early in the week it will seek to have state legislators eliminate the sunshine provision on the one cent tourism promotion tax so that it can continue indefinitely. Did you ever see politicians want a tax to end even when sunshine provisions are included with it?

One day later, lobbyist Mark Kelley, who includes the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Coastal Carolina University and the Horry County Board of Education among his clients, sued the Sun News for reporting Kelley’s proximity to certain events in what has become known as the “Coastal Kickback Scandal.”

Coastal Kickback spread $239,500, in campaign donations of questionable legality, to state legislators and city council incumbents. It has been the subject of an over two year investigation by the FBI and IRS.

Kelley claims the Sun News reporting did damage to “his good name, personal and business reputation.” For the life of me I can’t imagine how you damage the good name or reputation of a political lobbyist.

The timing of these events seems totally strange just four weeks before the June 12th primary elections. The local legislative delegation was responsible for passing the law that allowed the ad tax. The law applies only to cities in Horry County and is the only local option sales tax not subject to referendum approval by the voters.

Why shed light on what is considered, by the general populace, an extremely unpopular and corrupt tax just weeks before the election?

The incumbents running for re-election are already facing questions about the tax. The issue is also drawing considerable interest from voters in districts where incumbents are not standing for re-election.

Additionally 7th Congressional District candidates Randal Wallace and Tom Rice will face increased scrutiny. Wallace is a member of Myrtle Beach city council while Rice was a leader of the Take Back May movement that led to the ad tax, which eventually led to Coastal Kickback.

The only people in Horry County who consider the ad tax a good idea are the members of Myrtle Beach city council and the beneficiaries of the tax (the Myrtle Beach Chamber and the large hotel and golf course owners who have cut their corporate marketing budgets by over 90 percent).

Who else thinks using public tax dollars for marketing certain “special” large business interests is a good idea?

Government taxes should not be used to fund or replace normal costs of doing business. This is government interference in the marketplace (picking winners and losers among businesses) as well as corporate welfare to the extreme.

After the city shed light on this campaign issue, Kelley’s lawsuit added fuel to the fire by re-introducing the Coastal Kickback Scandal into the forefront of political discussion.

The lawsuit could prove to be a public service of a sort. Depositions of the main players in Coastal Kickback could provide great theater as the details of the campaign contributions are finally brought to light.

There was already considerable controversy about the upcoming elections with the recent candidate filing mess. Now, Horry County voters will also be treated to discussion of the unpopular ad tax and the murky details of Coastal Kickback.

It’s going to be an interesting election season.


One Comment

  1. It does seem odd that a public figure like Kelley would sue the Sun News over this, especially since David Wren obviously stated that he did not appear to have broken any laws. Let’s look at what might be going on here as it relates to the congressional race for the new district.

    After the tag-team effort by Dean, Wallace and Porter to silence Wren a while back it should be obvious that the paper and McClatchy are intent on sticking by him and his reporting, no matter what. That’s just as they should be. Kelley, who has not been in the forefront of public discussion about the Coastal Kickback scandal up to this point, has now thrust himself right out there in the middle of it all and assured that both he and the Chamber will get a great deal of attention for matters that many people in MB have assumed to have already been covered up and largely forgotten.

    This appears to be some sort of preemptive move on Kelley’s part. Maybe he’s broken from the pack, as a few others have reportedly done, and wants to focus maximum media attention on what the others have perpetrated to show that his role was actually relatively minor. This begs the question: does the MBACC/GSBB “Inner Cabinet” (also sometimes known as “The Committee”) approve of this action on his part, or has he gone rogue?

    Kelly is widely known, in political circles locally, to be Randal Wallace’s mentor and patron. So are we to assume that this is part of a calculated attempt to boost Wallace’s profile in the public eye? After all, the city councilman did take credit for the TDF or Ad Tax getting passed with the incentive of reduced property taxes for some MB residents to help keep the incumbents in office despite widespread dislike of the new tax. As a candidate for Congress that hasn’t been something the city councilman has stressed, naturally, just as Tom Rice has not stressed his own role in leading the obviously failed Take Back May campaign. If Kelley has indeed split from the “Myrtle Beach Mafia”, and if Wallace is not a “stalking horse” for Rice (as many have assumed) but a serious candidate, then Kelley’s game may be to use this suit to bring out the fact (if it is a fact) that neither of them was deeply involved in the planning of the convoluted scheme now being looked into by the feds in what is reputed to be a RICO probe.

    Assuming it’s not just another “Elmer Fudd” type of intimidation lawsuit that will soon be dropped, and taking this line of speculation a bit further, what if both Kelley and Wallace have told all to the IRS and FBI, in return for immunity? In that case, what might come out in discovery would obviously damage others far more than Wallace – including, perhaps, his SC7th opponent Tom Rice, who might find the “plausible dependability” he’s enjoyed up to this point has gone to hell in a hand-basket woven by Mark Kelley. Randal is obviously far more likely to make it to a run-off with Andre if they can manage to knee-cap Rice in this way.

    As George Takai would say, “Oh, MY!” It’s all some shifty and dirty business, for sure … but then again, what else is new?

    Welcome to the 2012 SC7th Super-Smackdown, folks!