Dems debate candidate pledge

Charleston County Councilman Vic Rawl lost to Alvin Greene in the U.S. Senate primary.

South Carolina Democrats are quietly debating if future candidates should have to pledge that they will abide by election and ethics laws -- or risk being taken off the ballot.

Such a pledge could have helped the party avoid its embarrassment over Alvin Greene, the surprise victor of its June 8 U.S. Senate primary. The party later tried to get Greene to abandon his candidacy after news broke that he faces a felony pornography charge.

The pledge idea is being pushed in part by former state lawmaker and Charleston County Councilman Vic Rawl, who lost to Greene even though Greene had raised no money, did not campaign and had not filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. He later filed with the FEC.

"An expanded or additional pledge would enhance the ability of the party to assure the citizens of the state that candidates comply with the law," Rawl said. "I think that is a duty of a political party."

But adding to the candidates' pledge would require changing state law and would affect both parties, South Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Joel Sawyer said. It's unclear if the GOP-controlled Legislature would have much interest in doing that.

"It's not really an issue we've looked at," Sawyer said. "Understandably, the Democrats are upset, given their extraordinarily incompetent job of vetting Alvin Greene. It's really a failure of their party to let people know who this person is. I don't know that you necessarily need another law."

State Democratic Chair Carol Fowler said she talked to Rawl about the pledge idea, though party leaders won't discuss it in detail until after the Nov. 2 election.

"I do think it's a fine idea, and I would certainly have no objection to it," Fowler said. "I think the more leverage the party has over candidates to make them do what they're supposed to do, the better."

Currently, both Republican and Democratic candidates must sign an oath that they will not run in the general election if they don't win their party's June primary.

The legality of that oath was upheld recently by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals after state House candidate Eugene Platt of James Island challenged it.

These pledges differ from state to state. That's why U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman was able to win re-election as an independent candidate just months after he lost Connecticut's Democratic primary. He couldn't have done that in South Carolina.

Rawl said he would like to see candidates have to pledge that they will abide by campaign disclosure laws overseen by the State Ethics Commission or, for federal candidates, the Federal Election Commission.

Several Democratic candidates, not just Greene, didn't meet that test this year, which Fowler said was a first in her experience. "It's certainly the first time we've had a primary winner that hasn't done the legal reporting they're supposed to do," she said.

While the state and federal agencies do enforce those laws, Fowler said such enforcement often happens months, even years, after the fact.

Rawl said no one should be able to prevent someone from running for office, "but is there any obligation on a party -- and you know good and well in the old days, when candidates were selected by convention rather than in a primary, there was -- to ensure candidates follow the law?"

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or rbehre@postandcourier.com.