COLUMBIA -- Attorney General Henry McMaster appears to have won the dollar race in the first quarter in his bid to win the GOP nomination for governor.
The two-term Republican attorney general reported raising $430,078 in cash for his primary bid. But he was trailed closely by Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer's $397,978 and U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett $393,161.
"It feels good to be gaining both financial and political momentum at precisely the right time in this race," said McMaster spokesman Rob Godfrey.
Barrett's campaign noted that McMaster entered the race with more than $1 million from his re-election campaign. "Today that margin is gone," Barrett spokesman B.J. Boling said.
Bauer would have trailed Barrett if he had not included $23,300 in donations after the quarter closed March 31. Bauer adviser Rod Shealy said it wasn't an effort to game Bauer's reporting. "We're just over-reporting," Shealy said. "We're going above and beyond what the law requires."
Godfrey notes that Barrett transferred more than $700,000 from his congressional account.
He's also the only GOP candidate to put a substantial amount of his own cash into the race. He gave the campaign $70,000 during the quarter and lent it $245,000 on Dec. 31. Bauer said his personal cash made him the money race frontrunner in the quarter.
Bauer's donors include former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel who resigned while facing cocaine charges only months after taking office in 2003 and was convicted and spent 10 months in prison and a halfway House. Ravenel wrote two $1,000 checks to Bauer in March.
"He's a friend of mine and he supports my conservative agenda," Bauer said. "He's still a hardworking taxpaying citizen of this state and I appreciate his support."
The GOP's fourth candidate, state Rep. Nikki Haley, reported with $192,394 for the quarter. The figures reflect cash raised during the quarter, not non-cash aid for the candidates.
However, Barrett leads the cash-on-hand race with $1.6 million to $1.4 million each for Bauer and McMaster. Haley had $530,023 on hand on March 31.
In practical terms, the cash on hand difference between Barrett, McMaster and Bauer amounts to nearly a week of heavy statewide television ad time for Barrett. It also suggests that while Haley may not be seen as frequently on television, she's raised enough to mount a credible campaign.
Because McMaster, Bauer and Barrett all have more fundraising experience, Haley's showing surprised Furman University political scientist Danielle Vinson.
"She can be heard with that amount of money. It's still going to be tough for her to compete. But that's enough money to get some ads up and to get some grassroots mobilization going," Vinson said. "She's apparently making this a very credible run."
Combined, the campaign finance reports show the remaining GOP candidates have raised $6.7 million and spent $1.8 million and have $4.9 million to spend in the weeks remaining before the June 8 primary.
Despite the recession, Vinson said "it's a good year to be out raising money if you're a Republican. The economy may hurt but Democrats are helping a lot. There's some enthusiasm for anyone but the party currently in power."
Democratic state Sens. Robert Ford of Charleston and Vincent Sheheen of Camden were the only candidates in their party's primary filing campaign finance reports by Monday afternoon. Ford's report showed he raised $31,650 in the quarter and has $52,953 on hand. Ford also has borrowed $25,000 for the race and openly says winning would amount to a miracle.
Sheheen raised $244,497 in cash and had $800,190 on hand for the primary. Sheheen said in a news release it reflected an appetite for a new generation of leadership.
Education Superintendent Jim Rex hadn't filed his report.
Barrett was the only candidate to meet Saturday's filing deadline. McMaster filed his report within an hour of the deadline.
While state law sets the deadline, penalties aren't assessed unless reports aren't filed within five days.
State Common Cause director John Crangle said it's more of an image problem than anything else for candidates to blow the deadline. Because campaigns routinely file before being hit with penalties, the public and media can scrutinize the reports.
"If there's a pattern where a candidate has repeatedly failed to meet the deadline, it seems to me that is a very negative comment about the condition of their campaign," Crangle said.
Campaigns say computer problems and clunky state-run system for entering donor data is to blame.
"The filing system is extremely cumbersome," said Tim Pearson, spokesman for Haley, who is an accountant.