Much talk has taken place regarding Howard Rich, his campaign contributions to members of the South Carolina General Assembly, and his ceaseless efforts to convince legislators to allow public dollars to be used to send children to private schools. In this economic climate and with the continuing cuts in funds for public education, why would elected officials be willing to allow public dollars to go to private schools?

According to the websites that monitor Mr. Rich, the wealthy New York real estate developer contributed more than half a million dollars in the primary and general elections of last year, using his numerous LLCs to funnel money to various Democratic and Republican candidates.

For decades Mr. Rich has been financing ballot initiatives and candidates who share his political philosophy throughout our country. It seems like his goal is to buy the S.C. General Assembly one lawmaker at a time.

Locally, several members of the General Assembly have received contributions from Howard Rich, including state Sen. Robert Ford and state Reps. Wendell Gilliard, Tim Scott, according to the S.C. New Democrats and(

We all know that it takes money and other resources to run for public office. However, candidates must be mindful of the motivations of the individuals from whom they accept campaign contributions and advice. Some candidates do not have high standards when it comes to the organizations and persons they receive money from. People without those standards lack integrity and should not be elected officials.

When I ran for public office, I made a commitment not to take money from those who were trying to buy my vote, influence, or support. I returned a contribution from a payday lending organization and pledged to return any further contributions that came with strings. Something about being independent and having integrity allows me to sleep well at night.

While many Republicans have no problem with supporting Howard Rich, the situation seems different for Democrats. I suppose each Democrat who took money from Mr. Rich has no intention of voting for any voucher measure, and there is a possibility they just took the money out of desperation. Whatever the reason, how they vote, and if they accept future contributions, will tell the true story.

With this information, how will their constituencies respond when it comes time for reelection? I’m sure many voters will forgive and forget and not demand an honest answer. In fact, this might not even be a concern to them.

It is important to know who is making financial contributions to those seeking public office. Not all campaigns are perfect, but when the Charleston County School District is facing a $28 million shortfall and staff members are being furloughed, a great opportunity exists for us to do better when it comes to public education.

The further destruction of our public school system by using public dollars to fund private schools, which aren’t accountable to taxpayers, is not progress.

Howard Rich has repeatedly said that his agenda is to divert tax dollars from public schools to private institutions, and he appears to be committed to that effort in South Carolina. Evidently, Mr. Rich is going to be funding operations here until voters no longer elect or reelect his candidates.

It is our duty to send a message to Howard Rich and those he contributes to. That message should be that we, the residents of South Carolina, are not for sale. We will use public dollars for the best interests of our children and not for the special interests of those who are seeking personal financial gain.

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