By Paul Gable
In this strangest of all political seasons, the number of political casualties continues to rise by the week as new disclosures are made about challengers and incumbents. And it is not over yet by a long shot.
Over 200 state and local candidates for elective office have already been removed from the June 12th primary ballots and more seem destined to be disqualified in the upcoming weeks.
Two front running candidates for the new 7th Congressional District seat ended their campaigns after being arrested for what can only be called “extremely stupid acts” on their part.
Now, Gov. Nikki Haley’s ethics, while a state representative, are getting a second look and it appears that there is a lot more fire than smoke in the complaint against her.
A S.C. Supreme Court hearing May 1, 2012 and reaffirmed May 3, 2012 eliminated approximately 180 challengers from upcoming state and local primary races because they failed to file a Statement of Economic Interest “at the same time and with the same official” that they filed their Statement of Intention of Candidacy.
After the decision, the Supreme Court gave the state and local Republican and Democratic parties until noon May 4, 2012 to submit a list of certified candidates to the state and local election commissions, as applicable.
However, since those initial lists were submitted, candidates have continued to come off the ballot. A new hearing before the Supreme Court is scheduled for June 4, 2012 regarding the legitimacy of approximately 12 candidates still on the ballot.
We have written and produced examples of how some very convoluted logic was used to certify certain candidates after the Supreme Court decision.
Now, we are hearing of more candidates, in various sections of the state, bragging they were certified for the ballot even though they did not file properly.
Is this the sound of wholesale election fraud that is getting back to us?
7th Congressional District Race
First it was Republican Thad Viers, the front runner at the time, dropping out of the race after he was arrested in early January for allegedly harassing his former girlfriend. There were always things about the Viers’ incident that did not add up, such as the girlfriend was not the one pressing charges. We still wonder if the whole episode was orchestrated to end his candidacy.
Last week, front running Democrat Ted Vick dropped out of the race after being arrested in Columbia for DUI and gun charges. Vick had a 21 year old USC coed in the car with him at the time of his arrest. This one seems more in the normal course of political behavior but extremely stupid less than three weeks before a primary election in which he was the favorite.
The 7th Congressional District race is wide open on both sides. Former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer is the front runner on the Republican side with a comfortable double digit lead over his closest pursuers Horry County Council chair Tom Rice and former Parks, Recreation and Tourism director Chad Prosser.
However, with nine candidates remaining in the race, Bauer is only polling around 30 percent and a runoff seems guaranteed.
With the exit of Vick, candidates Preston Brittain and Gloria Bromell Tinubu are running neck and neck at the top of a four candidate field. Both seem to have the potential to win a majority of the votes in the initial primary, but it is not clear which one will come out on top, if a runoff will be avoided and how that will translate in the November general election.
Right now, it can be argued that at least the five above named candidates all have the potential to be the newest congressman from South Carolina.
The governor initially got a pass from the House Ethics Committee on an ethics complaint filed against her. The committee voted 6-0 that probable cause existed to conduct an investigation into Haley’s ties to two firms while she served in the House. However, minutes later the committee voted 5-1 to dismiss the complaint against Haley.
After a public outcry of coverup, the committee voted to further investigate the allegations against Haley and a new investigation was opened last week.
The ethics complaint, filed by Republican activist John Rainey, alleges Haley solicited money from lobbyists and corporations for the Lexington Medical Center from 2008-2010 as it sought to raise funds to build an open heart surgery center.
It also claims Haley earned $42,500 as a consultant to Wilbur Smith Associates, an engineering firm that does considerable business with the state.
Rainey alleges Haley filed false disclosure forms to hide her ties with the medical center and Wilbur Smith and did not recuse herself from House votes dealing with the two businesses.
After the committee initially dismissed Rainey’s charges, he sent an appeal letter quoting sections in state law that require an investigation into the charges when probable cause exists as the committee acknowledged in its 6-0 vote.
In her defense to the committee, Haley’s lawyers claimed she worked for the Lexington Medical Center Foundation, a non-profit entity separate from the hospital. Haley and her attorneys claim she could not have lobbied for the hospital because she didn’t work for the hospital.
However, paychecks and W-2’s issued to Haley came from the Lexington Medical Center. When Haley negotiated a settlement to leave that employment, as she launched her gubernatorial run in Spring 2010, the negotiations were with the Lexington Medical Center administration. The documents show Haley earned approximately $110,000 per year.
IRS Form 990’s, filed by the foundation for the three years in question, clearly show the foundation claimed no employee earned $50,000 or more in those years.
Rainey also provided e-mails between Haley and Lexington Medical Center officials discussing votes and fund raising details that appear to add credibility to his charges.
The committee initially gave Haley a pass on her Wilbur Smith ties, but may look deeper now that the investigation has been reopened.
Haley has blamed House Speaker Bobby Harrell for interfering in committee business and getting the investigation reopened. Harrell has denied Haley’s claim, but said the allegations against the governor are serious and could point to criminal behavior if they are proven accurate.
Even for South Carolina this is a very weird political season. Our prediction is that there remain many more twists and turns to be reported in all three areas before these issues are decided.
Paul Gable is the editor of Grand Strand Daily, an investigative reporter and feature writer in the newspaper industry for over 25 years. His body of work has concentrated on government fraud, abuse and violations of the law. Prior to entering the newspaper business, he served in U.S. Naval Intelligence working on national-security matters.