COLUMBIA — Businesses, interest groups, citizens and others are free to make large contributions in the final days before South Carolina elections, with the public left in the dark about the cash until months after the contests.
State law requires candidates to file a final pre-election disclosure report at least 15 days before an election, but donations made in the 20 days before Election Day don’t have to be revealed until the end of the next quarter.
Charleston GOP Sen. Paul Thurmond says that loophole needs to be closed, or at the very least, limited.
“Why would you exclude that during the most critical time of the campaign?” Thurmond asked. “Certainly the public should be aware of who people are being funded by.”
Contributions are the lifeblood of campaigns, funding workers and advertising.
Thurmond said law now allows for “gaming the system” by encouraging donors to make contributions toward the end of a campaign to shield them from disclosure.
The freshman senator has filed a bill that would require all candidates to report contributions of $250 or greater on a daily basis in the 20 days before an election. Also subject to the proposed requirement would be a contribution of less than $250 that when combined with all other contributions accepted from the donor during the period that have not been reported, add up to more than $250.
Thurmond said he wanted to more closely mirror federal disclosure requirements.
Last week, a panel of state senators balked at the proposal, amending it to simply require another standard disclosure report to be filed by candidates five days before an election. Senators advanced the bill after passing the amendment.
In essence, the senators swapped a 20-day dark period for a five-day stretch in which donations still would not have to be reported until the following quarter.
Charleston GOP Sen. Chip Campsen said last week that Thurmond’s original proposal could be onerous for candidates, noting his wife serves as his campaign manager and his kitchen table as his campaign office.
Thurmond, who does not sit on the Senate subcommittee that amended his bill, said he is OK with the change because it still improves disclosure compared to current law.