Number Crunch: Following the campaign cash in the Sumter races

We’re finally approaching the home stretch of the 2016 election season, and candidates are gearing up their final push aimed at the November balloting.

As part of their efforts, all South Carolina candidates are required to file several campaign finance reports with the South Carolina Ethics Commission, showing what funds they’ve raised, who they’ve raised them from, and how they’ve spent the money.  And while local candidates will be required to file another “pre-election” report sometime between Oct. 19 and Oct. 24 to give voters one last look at their campaign finances before the November election, the their third quarter report, due to be submitted by Oct. 10, often illustrates where a campaign’s finances stand as they prepare for the home stretch.

In this Number Crunch, we’ll look at the reports from local races, focusing primarily on the Sumter Mayor race between Joe McElveen, William “Dutch” Holland and Charlie Jones; the Sumter County Council District 3 race between Jimmy Byrd and Patty Wilson; and the four-way Sumter City Council Ward 4 race between Randolph Black, Steve Corley, Melissa Evans and Jim McKinney.

Here’s a few of the details we found in this latest round of campaign disclosure forms:

Joe McElveen knows how to get donations out of his office

It appears the campaign of the four-term incumbent has the strongest financial footing of the three men in the local mayoral race, with several donors giving the Sumter mayor the maximum amount of money allowed by state law.

South Carolina sets the maximum donation that an individual or company can make in a locally-contested election at $1,000 (statewide candidates can receive up to $3,500).  That doesn’t mean in the past that candidates haven’t found a completely legal way around that restriction, using business contacts and closely-tied businesses to make multiple donations. McElveen appears to have done that this year.

In the last quarter alone, McElveen, who works as a lawyer at the Bryan Law Firm, not only received $1,000 from law partner Thomas Bultman and $250 from retired partner Arthur Bahnmuller, but also $1,000 from the Bryan Law Firm itself and $1,000 each from two holding companies, named “Calhoun Properties” and “North Main Street Properties.” Each company has a mailing address of P.O. Box 2038, Sumter.  That also happens to be the post office box for, you guessed it, the Bryan Law Firm.  That’s at least $4,250 in the last quarter alone out of his own office.

We point this out not to imply what McElveen has done isn’t allowed, but rather to illustrate that in the last quarter alone, McElveen has raised more money from his place of work than his main rival, William “Dutch” Holland, has raised for his entire campaign.  It’s also likely more money than his other opponent, Charlie Jones, has raised as well, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.

As of Oct. 10, McElveen’s campaign had $19,299 on hand, having spent $3,261 of the $22,560 his campaign had raised so far.  McElveen’s largest campaign expense?  Most Sumter motorists can tell you: yard signs.

Dutch Holland missed the latest filing deadline, but likely hasn’t raised much

Conventional wisdom in political circles says challengers often have to outspend their opponent if they want to unseat an incumbent.  The two caveats to this: 1) this doesn’t necessarily need to be the case in local elections where voters tend to know the candidates better, like the Sumter mayoral election, and 2) 2016 has been anything but conventional.

Still, Holland, who missed the Oct. 10 filing deadline to make his latest report, appears to have not raised the amount of money typically needed to drive voter interest in a race against an incumbent.

In his second quarter report, filed in July, Holland had raised only $2,600, $1,700 of which he donated to his campaign himself.  That amount of money will buy a few yard signs (as voters in Sumter have seen), but makes it a little more difficult to push out a message on why the voters should make a change in office.  Holland will get a chance to take his message directly to the voters on Oct. 25, when the three candidates meet for a debate at Sumter High School.

The other man in the race, however, is having even larger problems stemming back a few years.

Charlie Jones has yet to file…for 2014

This year’s mayoral race is not the first time recently that local recording artist Charlie Jones has sought political office.  Two years ago, Jones was also a candidate for the District 6 seat for Sumter County Council, but was defeated in the Democratic primary by James McCain, receiving only 26 percent of the vote in the two-man race.

Despite now turning his sights on the municipal election, Jones has yet to file a campaign finance report for either his 2014 or 2016 bids for office.  This, in itself, is not illegal, because only campaigns that have either raised or spent more than $500 are required to file.  Jones does, however, need to file a Statement of Economic Interests, but he has yet to do that as well.   

Who’s paying for the Sumter City Council Ward 4 signs?

We get that campaign yard signs can be an effective way to get a candidate’s name in front of the public, and the people of Sumter Ward 4 know that better than anyone this year.  This voting ward, which includes the city’s downtown historic district and surrounding areas, has seen a large number of signs promoting all four candidates looking to replace council member Colleen Yates.  

Despite this, none of the four candidates have reported any of these expenditures for their campaign.  Only two of the candidates – Corley and Evans – have filed a Statement of Economic Interests – and only Evans and McKinney have filed any campaign disclosure forms.  Both of those reports were “pre-election” reports, filed back in July.  For McKinney, he reported he had given his campaign $750, and spent $240 on his filing fee, while Evans’ report claimed no contributions or expenditures.

According to the South Carolina Ethics Commission, Black has to file either a statement of economic interests or a campaign finance report.

In the Sumter County Council race, Wilson stopped raising funds after her primary victory

The only contested race for Sumter County Council comes in District 3, where Republican incumbent Jimmy Byrd faces Democratic nominee and former Sumter School Board trustee Patty Wilson.

Before facing Byrd, however, Wilson had to defeat James Self in June primary, which she did by roughly a 2-to-1 margin.    Leading up to the primary, Wilson received campaign donations from a number of recognizable Democratic supporters.  Since then, however, Wilson has not reported a single campaign contribution.

As of her July report, the last report available, filed Aug. 23, Wilson had $157 on hand in her campaign account, having spent $2,039 of the $2,196 dollars she had raised, which included $721 in personal funds.

Byrd, meanwhile, had $3,671 as of his October filing on hand for the last month of the campaign, having raised slightly more than $9,000 this cycle.  Most of his expenses have been for printing campaign materials.

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