Fundraisers to kick off reform campaign

Gov. Mark Sanford's campaign against state lawmakers who have frustrated his reform agenda is cranking up, but some say his strategy is a risky one.

Next month, Sanford and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush plan to attend three fundraisers across the state to raise money for ReformSC, a new political organization backing the governor.

The organization and those who support it intend to pressure lawmakers to back Sanford and help find candidates to

run against those who refuse, said Chad Walldorf, a ReformSC board member and Sanford's former deputy chief of staff.

"We have a legislature that has some good individuals but as a group has increased spending by over 40 percent in the last three years, an increase at double the national average, and has consistently blocked reform efforts to restructure our government," Walldorf said. "So this is a citizen-run effort to try to create change within the Legislature."

But tackling his legislative opponents head-on could backfire if Sanford alienates even more lawmakers.

Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell, whose relationship with the governor has had its ups and downs, said, "You get people to do things you want them to do by working with them. You don't generally get them to do things you want them to do by slapping them around. It's like punching someone in the face and slapping them around and saying, 'Now that I got your attention, here's something I want you to do.' "

Bush and Sanford and other South Carolina conservatives plan to hold a breakfast event in Spartanburg, a lunch event in Columbia and an evening cocktail event in Charleston on Oct. 16 to raise money for ReformSC.

That group was formed earlier this year with a few donations and a small slice of the $1.8 million war chest Sanford had after winning re-election last fall.

Walldorf said ReformSC still has no staff but did run some radio ads attacking lawmakers for proposed "pork barrel" projects in this year's state budget, including a $950,000 line item for a Green Bean Museum in Lake City.

"That ended up not getting through," he said. "I think ReformSC's raising awareness of that specific pork item — I guess you can call that pork and beans — certainly played a part in that coming out of budget."

Tom Davis, Sanford's current chief of staff, encouraged conservatives to attend next month, saying ReformSC "will be a vehicle through which to make that change happen, a statewide, organized grassroots movement that likes of which have never been seen in South Carolina."

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said Sanford and Davis are out of the country this week and Davis sent the e-mail out on his own time.

Still, lawmakers who have opposed Sanford are not lying low.

State Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, said Sanford's problem is that he never participated in grassroots politics and doesn't know the state as well as lawmakers do.

"What he wants done will destroy the state and its citizens, and that's why members of his party fight him the hardest," Ford said. "All the members of the General Assembly, Republican and Democrat, have a deep love of their constituents and South Carolina, and they're not going to let one man mess up this state with his own agenda."

Harrell noted that Sanford supporters backed Ken Wingate, who lost his bid for a Columbia state Senate seat, and opposed Sen. Catherine Ceips, who won her race in Beaufort.

"The likelihood of defeating these people is not high," Harrell said. "Then after he fails to defeat them, he's going to turn around and ask them to support his agenda.

"I've helped push through a lot of things on the governor's agenda," he said. "I'm consistently baffled by this desire to attack people instead of working with them."

If Sanford's ReformSC campaign carries risks, so does doing nothing, Walldorf said. "Gov. Sanford has tried for five years to work with the General Assembly to bring about some of those reforms, and unfortunately, logic has not seemed to carry the day in that discussion," Walldorf said. "If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting (a different) result, I think he's been forced to pursue a different strategy to bring about change."