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.