The Carpetbaggers Never Left

While most of the news coming out of Columbia has revolved around Gov. Mark Sanford and his ill-advised participation in the sale of state-owned waterfront property to a Beaufort developer who also happened to be a campaign donor, a little-noted item caught my eye: State Rep. Herb Kirsh (D-York) filed a bill limiting the number of political campaign contributions a person can make to a candidate through corporate entities.

In the wake of the Operation Lost Trust scandal in the ’80s, the 1991 Ethics Act set limits on campaign contributions. Currently, state election law allows for individuals to donate up to $3,500 to candidates for statewide office during an election cycle. The limit for General Assembly candidacies is $1,000 per cycle. The same rules apply for corporations. But because one person can be behind several different corporations, that one person can make more than one donation to a single candidate, that is if the donations come from one of his or her companies.

The target in Kirsh’s sights is Howard Rich, a New York City real estate magnate. Kirsh says that Howard Rich is the lynchpin in a national network of wealthy political allies who contribute millions to political candidates who advocate limiting government on all levels. These folks want taxpayer aid for private schools, the rolling back of environmental protections, and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits the amount of revenue a state can generate from taxes. And Kirsh and his ilk are the type of guys who find Gov. Sanford — a guy who practically thinks that the fire department is an unwelcome governmental intrusion — so attractive.

The Wall Street Journal says Rich and his front groups spent $15 million on contributions in 2006 while The Nation detailed a $24 million donation history in the late 1990s. That’s a lot of money and, ergo, a lot of influence. And that is what Kirsh would like to derail in South Carolina. As he told The State, “I’m concerned one guy can put all that money in a race and get away with it.”

So suspect are the motives and tactics of Rich-sponsored political and ballot initiatives, the state of Illinois kicked out one of his groups last year. So, it’s not just Kirsh and other Democrats that don’t like Rich and his network.

Republican political consultant Rod Shealy of Columbia wrote on his website last fall that Rich was a “one-man costume party.” The consultant further warned, “Besides skirting contribution limits, there’s a more fundamental purpose behind this shell game. That purpose is to hide the fact that Rich’s initiatives are fueled by an ideology that loathes government, abhors public schools, and despises state laws that stand in its way. It’s essentially Halloween in reverse — the benign masks are there to hide the extremist ideology that lies beneath.”

Because Rich and his network use so many front organizations and corporations, South Carolinians run the distinct possibility of never knowing exactly how much these jerks spend to influence lawmakers.

But if you don’t believe me, take a few minutes and research what happened to Colorado after voters were misled into enacting a Taxpayers Bill of Rights in 1992 and what happened afterwards.

I, for one, don’t mind paying for paved roads, national parks, clean air and water, and, yes, the fire department.

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