COLUMBIA -- Controversial South Carolina political consultant Rod Shealy, known for his Hawaiian shirts and once dismissing a violation of campaign law as a "political traffic ticket," died Wednesday. He was 56.
Shealy claimed to be reformed in the years after he paid an unemployed black man from North Charleston with no political experience to run for Congress as a ploy to get white voters to the polls. But he continued to be known as a disciple of legendary South Carolina politico Lee Atwater, who came on the scene as Republicans were coming to power in the 1980s.
Shealy's sister Lorri Unumb said Shealy died around 3:30 p.m. at Medical University Hospital. He had been battling cancer, but Unumb said his death was unexpected. Shealy fractured his hip over the weekend and went to a hospital in Lexington County but was transferred to Charleston because that's where he was receiving cancer treatment.
"Last night, he was working on his computer, watching the Braves game and eating ice cream," Unumb said. "This morning he had bleeding on the brain and lost consciousness and didn't come back."
The Irmo resident underwent surgery in August 2008 to remove a malignant brain tumor and has been receiving treatment since then. In addition to his political consulting, Shealy published six small newspapers and operated a soda and ice cream shop.
Shealy's political influence seemed to peak in 2006 when he helped Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer win re-election, despite Bauer's driving record that had made headlines across the state. That same year, Shealy helped former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel win. Ravenel ultimately would leave office disgraced after a cocaine charge.
Shealy drew notoriety in Charleston in 1990 after he entered North Charleston resident Benjamin Hunt Jr. in the Republican primary to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Arthur Ravenel Jr. of Charleston. The plan was to bring white voters to the polls to help Shealy's sister Sherry Martschink in a state primary the same day.
The stunt resulted in Shealy receiving a $500 fine after he was found guilty of a misdemeanor for failing to declare a $5,000 contribution used to fund Hunt's bogus campaign. The episode also brought about changes in the state's ethics laws.
Bauer said he doesn't think people truly realize Shealy's impact on South Carolina politics.
"A lot of people in the Statehouse today got elected because of Rod Shealy, and they were mainly the underdogs," Bauer said.
Bauer said Shealy was a paid consultant for him on 12 of the 13 campaigns he ran -- all but the last one. Bauer ran for the Republican nomination for governor but lost to Nikki Haley. Haley faces Democrat Vincent Sheheen in November.
"He was 12-0 with me," Bauer said.
Politics was in the family. Shealy's father, the late state Sen. Ryan Shealy, represented Lexington County in the state House from 1955 to 1964 and from 1967 to 1968, then served in the Senate from 1981 to 1992. Martschink served in the Senate with their father.
Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Caughman- Harmon Funeral Home in Lexington, and the service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Lexington.
The family has asked anyone interested to make donations to the Autism Academy of South Carolina. Shealy's nephew and Unumb's son is severely autistic and it was a great passion of his, Unumb said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855 or email@example.com.