The SC Progressive Network submitted these written comments to the Republican Caucus Ethics Committee, which met this morning.
Money — rather than good ideas — fuels South Carolina’s politics. Ninety percent of the candidates who spend the most money win. An incumbent who spends the most money has a 98 percent chance of being elected. While state ethics laws limit campaign contributions to House races at $1000, a proliferation of political action committees (PACs) allow deep-pocket donors to get around the limit.
Webster’s defines ethics as “the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.” We urge this committee to consider that while the House rules of conduct, when followed, may be legal, they are not necessarily ethical.
For example, the Palmetto Leadership Council is a PAC headed by the SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell. Membership in his Leadership PAC cost $3,500. Harrell says on the PAC’s web site, “We are building a unique coalition between leaders in the private sector and those of us engaged in public service.”
While Harrell, or a corporation like AT&T, can only make a $1000 donation to a House candidate, AT&T can make a $3,500 donation to Harrell’s Leadership PAC, which can then make another $1,000 donation to the same candidate.
Harrell’s PAC has raised nearly $1 million since its founding in 2004, with 98.7 percent going to Republican candidates (79 percent incumbents). More than 89 percent of the candidates backed by Harrell’s PAC won election.
Harrell’s largest donations were $100,000 checks written to the state Republican Party. The party can then make a $5,000 contribution to the same candidate that received the $1,000 maximum from Harrell’s PAC.
It’s a way around campaign finance laws. It’s legal but ethically suspect. We urge the Committee to follow the Senate’s lead and eliminate leadership PAC’s that allow the “bundling” of campaign donations that violate the spirit of campaign finance laws.
Donations from Palmetto Leadership Council to members of the Republican Caucus Ethics Committee:
Chairman Murrell Smith, R-Sumter
(803) 734-3042 MurrellSmith@schouse.gov
Rep. Rita Allison, R-Lyman
(803) 212-6788 RitaAllison@schouse.gov
Rep. Derham Cole, R-Spartanburg
(803) 212-6790 DerhamCole@schouse.gov
Rep. Joe Daning, R-Goose Creek
(803) 734-2951 JoeDaning@schouse.gov
Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greer
(803) 212-6883 PhyllisHenderson@schouse.gov
Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester
(803) 212-6871 JennyHorne@schouse.gov
Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head
(803) 212-6928 AndyPatrick@schouse.gov
Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York
(803) 212-6895 TommyPope@schouse.gov
Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington
(803) 212-6897 RickQuinn@schouse.gov
Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville
(803) 734-3114 RolandSmith@schouse.gov