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SC’s newest senator may change how campaigns are funded

November 26, 2018

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A lawsuit by South Carolina’s newest state senator could change how Statehouse campaigns are funded in South Carolina.

Democrat Dick Harpootlian sued the Republican state Senate Caucus, saying the group broke the state’s ethics laws when it spent more than $5,000 on his Republican opponent, Columbia attorney Benjamin Dunn.

In the midst of the fall campaign, the South Carolina Supreme Court declined to overturn a lower court ruling temporarily stopping the spending until the lawsuit can be heard.

Harpootlian said it is wrong to allow major corporations with business before lawmakers to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the caucuses to pay for campaigns.

“The reason why I ran was not to just win an election or to be a senator,” Harpootlian told The Post and Courier . “It’s about hopefully bringing about some fundamental change in how the folks in the Statehouse view their jobs. I found this particular practice to be not only repugnant but illegal.”

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey is fighting the lawsuit because he thinks it will discourage candidates who aren’t independently wealthy from running for Statehouse seats.

The corporations won’t stop spending money on campaigns, and at least there is a better accounting if the money goes through the caucuses, said Massey, a Republican from Edgefield.

“Money will figure out a way to be spent, but it’s going to happen in a true dark money fashion,” Massey said. “I think it could be much more damaging than if you had a very strict system where everything had to be disclosed.”

Harpootlian’s lawsuit is months away from a court date. But if he wins, some political experts wonder if the interpretation of the $5,000 cap could extend to state and county political parties as well.

Some lawmakers are already discussing changing the law before Harpootlian’s lawsuit is heard. But he has warned his new colleagues he is a quick study with a willingness to filibuster if necessary.

“If they want that fight, I’ll have that fight,” Harpootlian said.

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Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com

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