COLUMBIA — South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster has begun asking campaign contributors for permission to use their donations for his gubernatorial campaign — but in a way that some say may not square with state law.
McMaster sent a letter June 23 to people who have donated to his attorney general campaign.
"I respectfully ask that you give me permission now to transfer your contribution when I become an official candidate for governor. All that is needed is your signature on the enclosed reply sheet. A postage paid envelope is enclosed for your convenience," McMaster wrote.
McMaster campaign spokesman Brad Henry confirmed Tuesday the letter was sent through McMaster's attorney general campaign.
But the State Ethics Commission's top lawyer said that kind of request has to come from McMaster's governor's race, which hasn't been announced.
"Any monies used to request a transfer of funds needs to be coming from the new statewide account, not the old statewide account," said Cathy Hazelwood, the commission's deputy director and general counsel.
Henry said a new account has not been set up because McMaster has not announced a run for governor.
McMaster's lawyer, Butch Bowers, disputed Hazelwood's interpretation of the law. "Mr. McMaster has done absolute nothing wrong. Everything has been completely by the books, completely in accordance with the law," said Bowers, who works as a volunteer for the attorney general's campaign.
But why not open an account and do it the way Hazelwood describes? "That would be tantamount to announcing for governor, which we haven't done yet," Henry said.
Few doubt that McMaster will run for governor. Even in his letter, he cites a state law that says contributions can be transferred "at the appropriate time to our gubernatorial account when it is opened."
"I think it's people in the campaign kind of putting the cart before the horse," Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said. "I'm not sure that even the most ancient Luddite in a cave in South Carolina is unaware that Henry McMaster is running for governor in 2010."