COLUMBIA – A newly formed political advocacy group, with ties to Gov. Nikki Haley, will make it a not so great day in South Carolina for some of her opponents this campaign season.
The group “A Great Day SC,” was formed and will be run by top Haley adviser Tim Pearson. It will raise money to put toward pro-Haley issues and candidates, since all 170 seats in the General Assembly are up for election this year.
“There have been a lot of good changes in South Carolina,” Pearson said about Haley’s tenure. “But there are some issues she wants to see finished. There are some changes she thinks need to be made so she’s going to do what she can to make that happen.”
The group is named after Haley’s signature catchphrase “It’s a Great Day in South Carolina.”
John Crangle, executive director of Common Cause South Carolina, said that while the group may not be the exact definition of a leadership political action committee, which the state House and Senate banned, it functions exactly the same as one.
“It’s an abuse of office for a person like the governor or Bobby Harrell. It’s basically run like a shakedown operation and a slush fund,” Crangle said about the former House speaker who ran a controversial leadership PAC.
The current ethics bill would require lawmakers to disclose for the first time their sources of income, but not the amounts. It would require groups and Super PACs that spend money on campaigns in South Carolina to disclose their donors and it would have banned so-called Leadership PACs, lawmaker fundraising groups that raise funds and then spend dollars without significant oversight and scrutiny.
Unlike a PAC, a 527 group like A Great Day SC must disclose its contributions and expenditures in Internal Revenue Service filings.
While Pearson wouldn’t discuss strategy, political observers said the potential millions raised by the governor could fund negative direct mail and radio ad campaigns against her opponents.
Republican strategist and Clemson University professor David Woodard, agreed that Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, could be a target. Leatherman boasts significant power, local support and a hefty war chest, but has drawn GOP primary opponents for the first time in two decades. Haley was introduced last March in Florence by one of those opponents, Florence County GOP Chairman Richard Skipper. She told a room full of local leaders that Leatherman obstructed ethics reform — a top priority of hers.
“There’s no ethics on mailers, and since most of these races at the local level aren’t TV races, you can kind of do anything you want out there,” Woodard said. “And she has plausible deniability. It’s always hard to get fingerprints on these groups.”
Crangle and others said money would go toward Senate races which a previous pro-Haley organization, the Movement Fund promoted. That group raised nearly $2 million and dedicated some of it to help elect Katrina Shealy over Lexington Republican Sen. Jake Knotts in 2012.
Pearson said A Great Day SC has a different goal than the Movement Fund, but a description of both in IRS paperwork is identical.
“Shaping the public policy and political debate to support conservative issues and candidates for federal, state, and local office in a manner consistent with Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code,” the filings read.
Karl “Butch” Bowers Jr., a Columbia attorney, is listed as custodian of the account.
Such outside dollars can also provide a boost to flagging campaigns.
Former Gov. Mark Sanford’s nonprofit ReformSC group spent $400,000 in promoting Haley as “South Carolina’s new conservative leader” a month before the 2010 gubernatorial primary — which she later won in a runoff.
“Sanford just got a list of people and figured if he knocked off half of them or a third of them it would be money well spent,” Woodard said about ReformSC.