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Money game: Campaign cash piling up in race for Finlay's House seat

Bauer Bailey Finlay

From left: Heather Bauer, Rhodes Bailey, Kirkman Finlay

The cash sprint is on in the race for the South Carolina House of Representatives District 75 seat currently held by Republican state Rep. Kirkman Finlay.

According to records filed with the South Carolina Ethics Commission, the incumbent Finlay raised $89,700 for the October through December quarter. However, that number included a $75,000 loan. The legislator and former Columbia City Councilman — whose late father was the longtime mayor of Columbia — received $18,700 in donations from individuals and businesses.

Among those who donated to Finlay, per Ethics Commission filings, were the Keenan Energy Company ($1,000), the Winnsboro Petroleum Company ($1,000), Anheuser Busch ($500) and the state political action committee of BB&T ($500), among others.

Finlay had more than $96,000 in total campaign cash on-hand at the end of the last quarter. He was first elected to the District 75 seat in 2012. In his last two elections he has easily defeated his Democratic opponents. He beat attorney Tyler Gregg by 19 percentage points in 2016 and downed activist John Crangle by 15 points in 2018.

It appears a pair of Democrats have intentions on challenging for the District 75 seat. Attorney Rhodes Bailey announced his campaign in September. And while she hasn't formally announced a run, IT projects manager and businesswoman Heather Bauer also has been campaigning and fundraising for the seat.

Bailey, a lawyer with the Richland County Public Defender's Office, had a strong fundraising quarter in the October through December frame. He raised $20,499 during the most recent quarter, and has raised a total of more than $62,400 for the election cycle. He had nearly $46,000 in campaign cash on-hand as of the end of December.

Among the individual donations Bailey received last quarter is a $250 contribution from third-term Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. 

Benjamin outlasted Finlay in the 2010 mayoral race in Columbia.

Meanwhile, Bauer, the co-owner of Workhorse Fitness near Bluff Road, has seen some momentum in her fundraising, particularly since she hasn't formally announced her candidacy. She raised nearly $8,700 in the October through December quarter, and has gathered a total of $13,000 for the election cycle. She had about $6,100 in campaign cash on-hand at the end of December.

Some of her donors included longtime Richland County Councilman Jim Manning, who, perhaps in a nod to the election year, contributed $20.20, and second-term at-large Columbia City Councilman Howard Duvall, who kicked in $1,000.

Continued fundraising will be critical for any Democrat hoping to have a chance against Finlay. The fourth-term Republican representative, a wealthy businessman and landowner, is an experienced fundraiser who has the ability to sink significant sums of money into his races. 

For instance, Ethics Commission postings show that, for the 2016 election cycle, where Finlay ran against the Democratic Gregg, the Republican had $270,000 in campaign contributions. That included over $160,000 in individual donations, and more than $100,000 in loans that were later paid back. 

Bailey tells Free Times he believes he will have the campaign infrastructure necessary to take the seat.

"I know I'm the candidate that can win in November," Bailey says. "We have a plan to beat Kirkman Finlay. We will have the funds necessary to win."

Bauer notes that her fundraising is starting to pick up steam. She raised double the amount of money in the last quarter of 2019 than she did the prior quarter. She also says she's willing to put in the work in the community.

"I'm a workhorse, not a show horse," Bauer says. "I've knocked on over 1,300 doors myself. I've personally made more than 300 calls. I've been to 79 events since September 1. And what I hear is that people want a change. They want something different."

State House District 75 is in Richland County and includes areas near Kilbourne Road, Fort Jackson Boulevard and the tony Heathwood and Kings Grant neighborhoods, among other enclaves.

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