In the Spring of 2020, like many in our district, I took interest in the district’s operations. Having two kids at two separate Irmo schools in sore need of $28 million dollars in repairs each appalled me. Our board of trustees at that time focused more on building beautiful, new schools rather than taking care of the old ones. Common sense dictates every time a new school goes up, explosive growth happens in the area zoned for that school.
I don’t know how many of you had the opportunity to read the article posted on the Irmo News website last week entitled “Candidates, Rules and Campaign Finance Laws” but it was quite enlightening, even if it was only available for about an hour or so. This article documented the campaign laws as well as apparent discrepancies in reports provided by one of the candidates in the upcoming special election for one of the Richland seats on the Lexington-Richland 5 School Board. Two issues really stuck out, and I’d like to take a minute to talk about those.
Statement of Economic Interest. The first issue brought to light in the article was the timeliness of the Statement of Economic Interest, which it states is “public disclosure of all forms of income for the filer and immediate family” and is due “within 5 days of filing for an elected position”. It goes on to state that Haley Griggs was the only candidate to disclose this information on time, while both of the other candidates were late providing this information.
Pre-Election Report. Second, and much more concerning, is the issue with the Pre-election Report. According to state law, the Pre-election reports are “required to be submitted by each candidate no later than 15 days to the election date.” As the article points out, that means that the report should have been submitted by Monday, September 27th. This law is in place so we, as members of this community, can know who contributes to political campaigns and might be influencing those candidates. Voters have the right to enter the polls fully informed about their politicians.
In a review of the three candidates’ financial reports, the article presents exactly the disclosures we’d expect for both Griggs and one other candidate. However, it continues that there was one candidate’s disclosure, that was submitted on September 28th, stated that they had raised only $500 in cash donations, for which no donors were named. Furthermore, the report in question listed no expenditures at all, despite the candidate appearing in a parade that has an entrance fee, placing signs that you can find all over the district, and printing flyers that have been delivered to many Richland County homes. Needless to say, this raised serious concerns over the accuracy of the candidate’s report, and misreporting this information would be a clear violation of our state law.
At this point, you may be wanting to review the article for yourself, but you are not able to do so. Very soon after it was published on October 6th, the article was removed from the Irmo News site because the candidate amended their Pre-election Report to include some additional donations and expenditures, appearing to contradict some of the information mentioned above. However, this information was not there at the time it was posted. I know because I checked! Both initial reports and amended ones can be found on the SC Ethics website (https://ethicsfiling.sc.gov/public/campaign-reports/reports).
After discovering all this, I decided to do some additional research. At this point in time, there have been four flyers distributed on behalf of that candidate’s campaign. One of them, in particular, appears to have been produced (and, thus, should have been paid for) by the campaign as it lacks any other notice and clearly includes the campaign’s artwork and the candidate’s picture. However, it is not currently listed as an expenditure (as of 10.10.21).
The other flyers sent to voters have referenced two other organizations for which I can find very little information.
D5 BIPOC Parents & Stakeholders. This organization sent the first of the flyers for the candidate; however, their only reference is a Facebook page. They do not provide any details, such as who founded the organization or who currently leads it. The page launched this summer, and the vast majority of its posts have been about this election. I was also unable to locate it as a registered Political Action Committee.
Partnership for a Better South Carolina. This is an organization that paid for at least 3 separate mailers for the same candidate. Based on my research, the only entity that I could find by this name is an LLC originally founded as Vision for a Better Lowcountry, LLC by John’s Island resident, Anthony Moffett. Personally, I find it suspicious that an organization based in a town two hours away from our district thought it was worth sinking thousands of dollars in creating and mailing three flyers related to our school district’s special election. Unfortunately, the South Carolina state law regarding PACs disclosing expenditures over $500 for a specific candidate was ruled unconstitutional 3-4 years ago. As a result, we may never know why this organization chose to interject itself or whose money was used to support the mailings. This is a total recall to last year’s newspaper-like mailers put out by Positive Voices of District 5 whose production and mailing were conservatively estimated at $35,000.
Given all this, forgive me if I am still skeptical that this candidate’s amended pre-election report paints a clear, complete picture of how much financial support their campaign has received and from whom. To put it another way, a campaign mantra I hear over and over again (even from some of the candidate’s supporters) is “follow the money” as it will tell you who the candidate is, and, as much as I would love to do that for this candidate, their campaign has made it very hard to do.
I wonder how long it would have been before we had the information which the candidate was either intentionally concealing or not prioritizing the release of if the Irmo News had not published their initial report. Either way, I want more transparency in our school district’s finances than it seems this candidate is willing to provide, and I believe I’m not alone.