Policy Council criticized
COLUMBIA -- About a week ago, a group of conservatives met at a Denny's in Greenville to talk about replacing ranking Republican legislators with more conservative politicians, and House Speaker Bobby Harrell was at the top of their list.
Earlier this week, some of those same people showed up at the Statehouse to call for Harrell's job.
S.C. Policy Council President Ashley Landess, who was a speaker at the RINO Hunt (RINO stands for Republican in Name Only), said if the Campaign for Liberty's protest sounds like the Policy Council's message, it should.
But, she said, that doesn't mean she organized the protest against Harrell, R-Charleston.
"If someone is suggesting we're planting seeds, that's exactly what we exist to do," Landess said. "It's our job to get out there and show people what's happening."
Landess said her think tank -- which has coveted tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service -- is an objective, nonpartisan research group that works to educate residents and policymakers and promote limited government, free enterprise and individual liberty.
Republican lawmakers, who are also Harrell supporters, say Landess' involvement in the political realm is dangerously close to crossing the line into campaigning and lobbying, actions that could cost the Policy Council its nonprofit designation.
Landess said she gets out in front of groups, such as the RINO Hunt, to talk about the issues. She said she did not call for Harrell's ouster, although a recent article in the (Greenville) Times Examiner quoted her as having said so. The small paper calls itself the "independent conservative voice" for the state.
Political insiders have said the attack on Harrell appears to be a hit job on the speaker by supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, a Lexington state representative who has a rocky past with Harrell. However, the two have said they support each another and will work together, with Harrell appearing this week at a Haley campaign rally.
Also, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, a hero to many South Carolina conservatives, has validated Harrell's conservative credentials.
Landess said the Policy Council is not campaigning against Harrell, for his speaker's job or his House seat, on behalf of Haley or anyone else. Haley's campaign spokesman and the organizer of the Statehouse protest Tuesday have said the same thing.
Haley, the Policy Council and the protest are all connected, Landess said, but the connection is their alignment on ideas of limited government and accountability.
Landess said the point of her remarks in Greenville and elsewhere have been that the Statehouse powerbrokers -- including Harrell and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston -- need to be held accountable for the influence they hold over all three branches of government.
"Once we make people aware of it," Landess said, "they do want to do something about it."
Republicans Rep. Chip Limehouse of Charleston and Sens. Paul Campbell of Goose Creek and Larry Grooms of Bonneau said the Policy Council is moving from a trusted source of research into politicking and lobbying.
Campbell said the think tank is trying to influence legislation and the electorate, when it comes to certain candidates. He said he is basing his criticism on news articles, primarily those published by The Nerve, a Policy Council project.
"I don't know if they can maintain their tax-exempt status," Campbell said. "I think they are big time overstepping their bounds. I think it's wrong."
Landess said the source of the criticism against the Policy Council is from people who want to preserve the system that's in place.
"We certainly have made a lot of them mad," she said of legislators. "We've pushed and they have pushed back."
Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855.