By Paul Gable
The Horry County June 12th primary election ballots could have many blank spaces instead of candidates’ names if the South Carolina Supreme Court determines strict adherence with state law is required by all candidates.
After the state Supreme Court agreed last week to hear two cases regarding challenges to candidate filings from the recent election filing period, Grand Strand Daily conducted further investigation into filing dates of candidate Statement of Economic Interests.
Our investigation of filing information listed on the S.C. Ethics Commission website included both incumbent office holders as well as challengers. The results are that many candidates, it could even be said most, did not strictly comply with state law when filing for office in the current election cycle.
At the center of the controversy is South Carolina Code of Laws Section 8-13-1356 (B) which states, “A candidate must file a statement of economic interests for the preceding calendar year at the same time and with the same official with whom the candidate files a declaration of candidacy or petition for nomination.”
In February 2012, Republican and Democratic state parties both sent memos to county chairmen and state executive committeemen detailing the proper procedures involved in filing for office during the March 15, 2012 to March 30, 2012 filing period.
We will quote from Republican Party Political Director Alex Stroman’s memo of February 6, 2012 below because, in Horry County, it appears some Republican candidates and incumbent office holders have not complied strictly with the above law. In other counties in the state, both parties’ candidates appear to be affected.
Stroman’s memo stated in part, “All candidates for public office (except federal offices) must file an SEI form at the time they file for office. This includes incumbent candidates who may have already filed a quarterly statement. Party officials accepting the SIC, Party Pledge, and Filing Fee should ensure these forms have been filed online at the time the candidate files for office.”
Beginning with this election cycle, the statement of economic interests is filed electronically with the S.C. Ethics Commission. After the form is filed successfully, the candidate receives an electronically generated confirmation complete with number, date and time stamp.
“The candidate should print the filed form (or receipt) and submit this proof of filing along with the SIC form to the appropriate party official,” stated the memo.
However, this information apparently did not get forwarded to candidates until much later, or not at all, leaving not only challengers, but also many incumbent office holders in jeopardy of being declared ineligible because they did not strictly adhere to the filing requirements set forth in state law.
Grand Strand Daily reported last week that at least 15 Republican candidates for local and state offices could be declared ineligible because they failed to file their statement of economic interests by close of filing noon March 30, 2012. On further investigation, our reporting appears to seriously understate the problem.
We did not include incumbent office holders who filed for re-election because of South Carolina Code of Laws Section 8-13-1356 (A) which states, “This section does not apply to a public official who has a current disclosure statement on file with the appropriate supervisory office pursuant to Sections 8‑13‑1110 or 8‑13‑1140.”
However, on further investigation, the above section appears to only exclude public office holders who hold appointed, not elected, office. Incumbent elected officials filing for re-election appear to be considered candidates for the purpose of filing the statement of candidacy and statement of economic interests with Section 8-13-1356 (B) applying. This would concur with the state party memos sent out in February 2012.
For example, Horry County Solicitor Greg Hembree is a candidate for Senate District 28 who appears to have filed late. Hembree’s SEI as a candidate was filed April 20, 2012, according to the S.C. Ethics Commission website.
Similarly, Horry County Council District Four incumbent Gary Loftus filed his candidate SEI April 13, 2012 while District Six incumbent Bob Grabowski filed his candidate SEI April 19, 2012. Both filings appear to be late, according to the law.
Horry County Council District Three Democratic incumbent Marion Foxworth, filed his candidate SEI March 29, 2012. District Nine Republican incumbent Paul Prince filed his candidate SEI March 18, 2012 and District Ten Republican incumbent Jody Prince filed his candidate SEI March 29, 2012. All three appear to have filed completely in accordance with the law and these examples demonstrate that some candidates, regardless of party affiliation, did get the word on and complied with the new requirements.
The examples below all deal with Republican incumbent office holders. In a few instances, they followed the law completely. In others, the SEI filings were late.
House incumbents Tracy Edge and Nelson Hardwick appear not to have filed the SEI as candidates while House incumbent Alan Clemmons filed his candidate SEI April 18, 2012. Sen. Luke Rankin filed an SEI as an elected official March 22, 2012 but is not listed as having filed an SEI as a candidate.
Sen. Ray Cleary filed SEI as both an elected official and candidate on March 28, 2012 and Rep. Liston Barfield filed SEI as elected and candidate on March 29, 2012, making them appear to be the only members of the county legislative delegation who complied strictly with the law.
The Conway Court House incumbents, Sheriff Philip Thompson, Clerk of Court Melanie Huggins, Treasurer Roddy Dickinson, Auditor Lois Eargle and Coroner Robert Edge, all Republicans and unopposed for re-election, but all filed their statements of economic interests in April 2012 after close of filing.
One other potential problem could come to those candidates who filed both forms by March 30, 2012, but did not file the statement of candidacy and the statement of economic interests “at the same time and with the same party official.”
According to information received by Grand Strand Daily, Horry County Council District Three challenger Mary Henry filed her statement of candidacy on March 16, 2012 while her statement of economic interests was not filed until March 22, 2012. Both forms were filed by close of filing on March 30, 2012 but not at the same time during the filing period.
How strictly will the Supreme Court hold candidates to the letter of the law? If strict adherence to Section 8-13-1356 (B) of state code is demanded by the Court, the Horry County election ballot becomes a total mess with even unchallenged incumbents potentially declared ineligible by a strict decision.