By Paul Gable
A new twist has been added to the election filing controversy that affects many candidates for elective office throughout the state.
Even before the S.C. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the case May 1, 2012, the S.C. House Legislative Ethics Committee has seen fit to send out notices of fines for late filing.
The letter below has been edited to eliminate the name of the candidate for public office who received it. However, this candidate is a first time office seeker who filed the Statement of Economic Interests SEI) after March 30, 2012 but before April 15, 2012.
The letter indicates the filing was late, which would exclude the candidate from being certified to appear on the ballot since state law requires the SEI to be filed with the Statement of Intention of Candidacy (SIC). Filing for candidates closed noon March 30, 2012.
It would be interesting to know if any incumbent House candidates who filed their SEI after March 30th, such as Speaker Bobby Harrell, have also received this type of notification letter from the Ethics Committee.
Regardless, the Supreme Court still has to determine if the candidate who received this letter and other candidates who filed their respective SEI after March 30th are indeed legal candidates able to be certified for the ballot.
Is the House Committee jumping the gun here or is this a subtle way to protect incumbents who filed late by attempting to give de facto candidate status to late filers, but fining them for their transgression?
This may seem very convoluted, but so is this entire controversy.
The issue of filing required forms by both challengers and incumbents seems straightforward. State law requires those filing an SIC to file an SEI at the same time with both being filed by noon March 30, 2012.
Likewise, filing Campaign Disclosure forms listing contributions to and expenses by a campaign also seems straightforward when reading the law.
Candidates are required to file an initial disclosure within 10 days of receiving or spending $500 by their campaign. Quarterly disclosure forms must be filed within 10 days of the close of each calendar quarter thereafter.
However, not all candidates get this right. I offer the race for the new House District 56 as an example.
The race currently has two candidates, Republican Dennis DiSabato and Republican Mike Ryhal.
According to information filed and available on the S.C. Ethics Commission website, DiSabato filed his initial campaign disclosure form October 28, 2011, seven days after hiring a campaign consultant. He filed quarterly disclosure forms January 10, 2012 and April 10, 2012, and his SEI March 30, 2012, all within the time requirements of the law.
Ryhal was not as timely. According to the Ethics Commission website, Ryhal filed his SEI April 6, 2012, six days after the close of filing. His initial disclosure form was not filed until March 22, 2012 even though the form shows he raised a total of $1,035 February 15, 2012. Ryhal’s quarterly disclosure form was filed on time April 10, 2012, but with the same information as the March 22, 2012 initial disclosure even though he had a fundraiser at his restaurant March 25, 2012. Could it be no money was raised or expended at the fundraiser?
This is just one example of how two candidates for the same office can differ so widely in their interpretation of and adherence to state ethics laws.
Hopefully, the Supreme Court will not take too long, after hearing oral arguments May 1st, to issue a ruling on whether candidates, both challengers and incumbents, who filed their Statement of Economic Interests after the close of filing March 30th can be included on the June 12th primary ballots.
In the meantime you can check how candidates adhered to other ethics filing requirements by visiting http://apps.sc.gov/PublicReporting/IndividualReports.aspx