Pro-Haley group has ‘A Great Day’ Reports raising $515K from a few donors; political watchdog calls effort ‘hypocrisy’

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley

COLUMBIA — A political advocacy group created to target political opponents of Gov. Nikki Haley in this year’s elections has reported raising $515,000 in donations from just a handful of contributors.

A Great Day SC, named after Haley’s signature catchphrase “It’s a Great Day in South Carolina,” has received money from six individuals and groups, according to an Internal Revenue Service quarterly report provided to The Post and Courier.

No money has been spent on initiatives yet, but Haley’s top political adviser, Tim Pearson, who is overseeing A Great Day, said he is encouraged by the early numbers.

“As we get further into the legislative session and closer to Election Day, you’ll see the group spend more aggressively,” Pearson said in an email Monday. “And we will do so in any and every way available that will help move South Carolina forward.”

The donors include a number of wealthy Haley allies. New River Auto Mall in Hardeeville — which is owned by Warner Peacock, a Haley pick to serve on the state Jobs-Economic Development Authority Board — contributed $100,000 to the fund. Peacock himself gave $2,762.16 toward Haley’s reelection bid in 2014.

Health care entrepreneurs Vivek Garipalli of Colts Neck, N.J., and Raj Mantena of Jupiter, Fla., donated $250,000 and $100,000, respectively, to the group.

Garipalli has supported Haley politically before. He contributed $300,000 in 2013 to a previous pro-Haley political advocacy group, the Movement Fund.

Mantena, who was listed in other filings as Rama Mantena, also gave significantly to Haley, raising $572,000 for the Movement Fund between 2012 and 2014.

Mantena’s family members have donated $28,000 to Haley’s past gubernatorial campaigns, according to state filings. Garipalli also gave the maximum $3,500 to Haley’s reelection campaign in 2013.

A Great Day is a 527 nonprofit political advocacy group that can run issue-oriented advertising, fund voter mobilization efforts and give the maximum to state candidates. Money from the pro-Haley group, which formed during the divisive Senate roads debate in late February, added to jitters in the chamber as candidate filings for the 46 seats neared in mid-March.

The nonprofit is similar to a political action committee or a Super PAC.

It can raise unlimited amounts of money but is required to disclose its contributors and where the money is spent. Money can’t go directly to campaigns but can be spent advocating for certain candidates and their stances.

John Crangle, executive director of the South Carolina branch of the public watchdog group Common Cause, said Haley’s political advocacy group makes an odd juxtaposition as she is lobbying senators to pass ethics reform at the same time her supporters are putting large amounts of money into her political mission.

“It’s a very brazen form of hypocrisy on her part,” he said, adding that it’s “contrary to the most rudimentary changes in campaign finance reform and ethics reform.”

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A Great Day adheres to federal tax laws and current state ethics reform proposals would not affect its existence.

The tax disclosure comes days after state senators, several of whom are said to be political targets of upcoming advertising blitzes expected to be purchased by A Great Day, debated disclosing dark money that flows heavily into South Carolina.

Some of that money comes during periods of major and seemingly deadlocked debates, such as the recent gas tax fight, and during election years.

For example, Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, and Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, were all targeted during the roads debate by the South Carolina branch of the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity.

During that time robo calls and emails helped drive the three and others to shore up their stances and help pass a roads bill in March that included no gas tax or fee increases.

Leatherman is a top target of Haley’s group this year, along with the open race for Charleston Republican Sen. Paul Thurmond’s seat and Murrells Inlet Republican Sen. Ray Cleary’s seat. Both are retiring.

Schuyler Kropf contributed to this report.