by Paul Bowers
Howard Rich, a New York real estate mogul known for his advocacy of school-choice legislation, has donated $3,000 to S.C. Senate District 41 candidate Paul Thurmond's campaign this year.
Thurmond's Democratic opponent in the race, Paul Tinkler, will hold a press conference before a candidate forum tonight to announce "recently uncovered multiple, substantial campaign donations accepted by Paul Thurmond's campaign from an out-of-state special interest."
Rich is well-known for advocating school choice vouchers, which allow parents to use public school funding to finance private education for their children. Thurmond says he agrees with Rich and was not surprised to receive contributions from him. "I was advocating for school choice back in April," Thurmond says, long before the first contribution from Rich arrived in September.
If you follow South Carolina politics and don't know the name Howard Rich yet, it's time you got acquainted. Rich reportedly lives in Philadelphia now, but he made his fortunes in the Manhattan real estate business and has since thrown his money at candidates and special interest groups across the country. Like, a messload of money.
According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, entities controlled by or associated with Rich gave $6 million to property-rights advocacy groups from Idaho to Florida in 2006. Buying South Carolina, a blog that tracks Rich's contributions in this state alone, claims that Rich gave over $500,000 to South Carolina candidates in 2008, effectively making him the state's biggest political interest.
But wait, you say, aren't there strict limits on the amount of money a candidate can receive from a contributor? For South Carolina legislative candidates, that limit is $1,000 per election cycle, but Rich circumvents those limits by giving through numerous limited liability companies, or LLCs, all of which list one of two addresses he owns in Philadelphia or New York.
According to his campaign filings with the S.C. State Ethics Commission, Thurmond received $1,000 apiece this year from Mango LLC, Codben LLC, and Ashborough Investors LLC, all of which list the same address: 1420 Walnut St., Suite 1011, Philadelphia, PA.
Thurmond says he was aware that the LLC contributions were coming from Rich, and he holds that the three contributions were actually meant for separate races (and thus within the legal limit): the original Republican primary in June, the special primary in October (a result of this year's ballot snafu), and the upcoming general election on Nov. 6. "It's definitely not circumventing contribution limits. It's $1,000 per event," Thurmond says.
As for the method of the contributions through thinly veiled LLCs, Thurmond says, "I wasn't trying to hide anything from anybody. That was the way he chose to send it."
The moderated debate between Thurmond and Tinkler will take place at 7:15 tonight at Orange Grove Elementary School (1225 Orange Branch Road, Charleston). Tinkler's press conference, which will also feature EdFirstSC Director and local teacher Patrick Hayes, will begin at 6:30.
To read more about the Thurmond-Tinkler race, click here.
UPDATE: The S.C. New Democrats have compiled a list of S.C. politicians who received money from Rich in 2011 and 2012, including Dorchester County Republican Sen. Mike Rose ($18,000) and Charleston County Democratic Sen. Robert Ford ($6,000). Read the full list here.