COLUMBIA - One of the Republican candidates who is running for state Superintendent of Education contributed to the campaign of a Democrat who was running for the same seat but has since dropped out.
Molly Spearman - the financial front runner in the race - contributed $200 in September to Rep. Mike Anthony's campaign for Superintendent of Education. Anthony, a Democrat representing Union, announced in March he was dropping out of the race and seeking re-election for his seat in the House.
Spearman had no issues addressing her contribution on Friday. Anthony is a former teacher and coach of her children, she said. He has been a long-time supporter of public education, and when he asked for her support, she answered.
"I have given financially to folks, Republican and Democrats, that I feel are strong supporters of education in the state," Spearman said. "I don't have any apologies. (Education) has been my No. 1 issue."
She added her decision to enter the race was triggered by numerous business and education leaders who kept approaching her with concerns that there wasn't a strong candidate running for the seat on the Republican side. Spearman is the executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, has worked in education for 35 years and served in the state House of Representatives as both a Democrat and Republican. She said she switched parties in 1995 as her ideals aligned more with the Republican party.
The contribution information, which has circulated among political circles, served as fodder to her opponents in the race.
"If she served as a Democrat, donated to Democrats and worked for Democrats, then she must be a Democrat," said RJ May III, campaign manager for Charmeka Childs. "The fact that Ms. Spearman is running in the Republican primary is shocking and an affront to true conservatives."
May said it was equally surprising that Spearman would contribute money toward Anthony's campaign when Republican Superintendent of Education Mick Zais had not yet announced he would not seek re-election.
Some of her other primary opponents also expressed concern about Spearman's contributions.
"My family and I have spent a lifetime working to elect more Republicans in South Carolina and all across the nation," said candidate Sally Atwater in a written statement. "That's why it is disappointing to learn that in the past six years alone, Molly Spearman has donated to seven Democrats including Vince Sheheen."
Atwater is Spearman's closest rival financially, raising $86,041 in the first quarter. Spearman raised $90,521.
Sheri Few, who is also running for the seat as a Republican, said Spearman is on the record supporting the opposite of Republican issues.
"Her positions on education policy are very much aligned with the Democratic Party and I believe she's only running as a Republican because she knows that in this election cycle in order to win, you need to be a Republican," Few said.
Charleston County School Board member Elizabeth Moffly, another GOP candidate, said she was unclear on why Spearman would support Anthony, who had "no clue what our issues" in education were. She added her concern was more with Spearman, Atwater and Childs, "establishment candidates" who aren't bringing new ideas to the table.
"I'm running for a reason: I'm an advocate for children," Moffly said. "I really feel like students and parents haven't been given a voice."
But Spearman insisted she is on the record for speaking out on what's best for the state, and that she and her husband have contributed to both sides of the isle. She added that the next Superintendent of Education should be someone who has a relationship with both sides to bring all stakeholders together.
"It is true that I have remained respectful and have friends on both sides of the aisle," Spearman said. "And I will continue to do that because I believe that that's how we get things done in South Carolina."
Calls placed to candidates Gary Burgess, Amy Cofield and Don Jordan were not immediately returned.
Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.