Out-of-state money floods District 79 House race

For many of my readers, House District 79, which is located in Kershaw and Richland Counties, isn’t too far away. As this district touches I-77 and includes a nice chunk of I-20 between Camden and Columbia, many of us pass through it from time-to-time.

Being South Carolinians, we’re at least somewhat connected to the people of District 79, in the political sense: many of their issues of concern are shared by many around the state, their legislators vote on issues which affect us, and what our legislators do affects them. They are part of the shared realm that is South Carolina’s political culture, so it makes sense that we should care who they send to the legislature.

This year, District 79 is a three-way battle between a twelve-year GOP incumbent, Bill Cotty, Democrat Anton Gunn (a pretty decent and thoughtful guy in the emails that him and I have bounced back and forth) and petition candidate Michael Letts.

If Letts’ name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s run for that seat, and lost, as Republican three times before, as well as other offices in northeastern Richland County. After Cotty fended off a strong primary challenge, Letts decided to run for this seat … again.

Not only did Letts enter the race, but it seems as if his candidacy has allowed others to jump in, some from hundreds and thousands of miles away. If you click on the image to the right, you can see his contributors' report in full-size, showing all but one of his contributors from this filing cycle.

Political candidates often have friends, family or professional associations outside of the state, so it’s normal to see candidates getting a modest amount of out-of-state contributions. But when a staggering ninety-six percent of the Letts' campaign warchest comes from places which are no less than six or eight hours’ drive from South Carolina, it’s enough to make one wonder what is going on.

Of the $21,850 of contributions reported by Letts in his campaign finance report filed on Wednesday, just $850 was raised from South Carolina contributors - just under four percent of his total warchest. About half of his contributions came from two states - $5K from Pennsylvania and $6K from New York.

In fact, every single out-of-state contributor gave more than the total raised from in-state donors.

Why is this race so much more important to those who live outside of South Carolina than those who live here? How does the outcome of the race affect them … and what do they get out of electing Letts and ousting Bill Cotty, a twelve-year incumbent GOP legislator?

That’s a question worth asking those who’ve ponied up the bulk of contributions to fund Letts’ latest bid for this House seat. It’s also a question that the residents of District 79 may want to ask Mr. Letts.

As these contributors are giving the max to Letts’ campaign, they have to know him, and his history as a repeat loser. Either they have an amazing faith that this guy has suddenly transformed himself, or as we asked a few days ago, is this an effort to elect Gunn by splitting Cotty’s GOP voter base?

Whether they are seeking to elect Letts or Gunn, the outcome of the race may not affect these contributors very much. But it will affect those who live in District 79, as well as the rest of us here in South Carolina.

As always, your responses, either via email or blog postings, are welcome, especially if they can help shed some light on this matter.

... Democratic candidate Anton Gunn has promised to post comments, and we appreciate his taking the time from his campaign to think of us. Win or lose, he's a pretty thoughtful guy with a lot to say, and I hope he continues to say it here from time-to-time.

8 Response to "Out-of-state money floods District 79 House race"

  1. Anonymous 2/11/06 23:50
    They bought a House seat up in Anderson County.

    I guess they are trying to buy a seat for the Democrats because Cotty would not be bought and be a plaything for Mr. Rich and his friends.

    If there is one thing a rich man can not stand, it is a toy he can't buy.
  2. Anton J. Gunn 3/11/06 00:42
    Here are some short insights:
    1) Letts and Cotty have lots of histroy on opposite sides of issues going back to 1994 (long before out-of-state money was coming to candidates.
    2) The out-of-state folks get no victory by helping me to get elected...I am very much opposed to their voucher-tax schemes as well.
    3) My campaign for this seat is about new leadership for South Carolina. Its about bringing the change that voters deserve.
    4) I beleive that I am the best person to represent the people of this district. I am thoughtful, practical and extremely knowledgeable about all the issues that affect our entire state. Plus, I have worked in communities in every region of this state. So I can see how all things are connected. This perspective gives me a better ability to represent the people of District 79 and to improve the state of SC.
    5) Education is important in this race but there are other issues that are just as, if not more important to the voters. They are gangs, taxes, growth, health care and water and sewer.
    6) The money that has come to Letts is a drop in the bucket compared to what other candidates have received from the out-of-state folks.
    7) If you really look at the contributions to the candidates in this race. Letts has raised the least amount of money. Cotty more than $100,000, Gunn nearly $50,000, hell Sheri Few (Cotty's primary opponent) raised more than $21,000.
    8) We shouldn't overstate the ability of out-of-state money to influence our elections. Mail pieces and attack ads have a short shelf life. The folks in this district are educated voters, they see through that crap.
    9) Lastly, I think most voters are straight party types in this district. Only about 2000 would split a ticket or vote outside of the mainstream parties. So, I would expect that it will be tough for Letts to take enough votes from Cotty to change the outcome.
    10) If I am blessed to win on Tuesday, it will be because some Republicans and Independents see that I am best suited to represent them. They also see that I bring the type of leadership that moves people; leadership that wants to make people get involved; Leadership that is about positive change in South Carolina.
    11) Contrary to popular belief, none of the candidates in this race have done any negative campaigning to date (Nov. 2). We respected each other and have been very pleasant in public and private.

    So, don't read too much into the money. You are much better off reading into the candidates and I am the only candidate with a website offering voters the opportunity to read into me, my vision and my plan to help SC L.E.A.P into the 21st Century.
  3. Earl Capps 3/11/06 00:59
    Anton - I would question your claim on #11, with regard to Letts not waging a negative campaign.

    In looking at his campaign disclosure, it lists expenditures up to 10/18/06 for letts.

    while he spent an amazing 7K on signage, not the first direct mail activity took place.

    for a campaign that raised that much money, knew it had to overcome negative perceptions from past races, and had a professional consultant, i find it hard to believe they felt no need to send out direct mail.

    unless, of course, they were counting on the barrage of SCRG attack mail to do that on their behalf, as well as a negative telephone campaign. which is exactly what's been going on in that race.

    it seems a little too coincidental that these attacks are aiming to drive conservative voters away from cotty, while letts is billing himself as the conservative candidate.

    in SC politics, the appearance of coincidence seldom means it really is.
  4. pokey 3/11/06 01:36
    mr. gunn is either misinformed or willing to lie about school choice "taking money away from public schools".

    it's not just taking money, but it's also reducing their costs. duuuhhhhhh ...

    the tax credits and vouchers would equal less than the cost of educating a child. i'm guessing his graduate studies did not include economics or accounting, so i'll explain:

    education cost per child/yr: $9000
    voucher/tax credit child/yr:- $6000
    retained by pub sch system: $3000

    so long as the public school system has to give back less in vouchers than the cost of educating children, which is usually the case, they could actually increase the amount of money available, on a per child basis, to spend in public schools.

    under such a system, it would be great for the school system to run off as many students as possible, so they could have more money for raises. in theory, if 100% of students took vouchers and took off, then they'd still have a ton of money left!

    i wonder how he feels about forcing people to go just to the nearest college if they get lottery money?

    let's see what the rocket scientist has to say for himself on that one.
  5. west_rhino 3/11/06 10:13
    Earl, the out of state moeny has the smell of Quinn Marinaci and reports of "authorized" poll watchers with Pennsyalvania voter registrations some years ago.

    Also, where is Howard Rich in all this, isn't he the Gepetto that is holding the GOP purse strings?
    Sorry, I read the State again, my bad...
  6. PalmettoGOP 3/11/06 12:01
    It's RJ Shealy that is running the Letts campaign. It is NOT a positive campaign.
  7. Earl Capps 3/11/06 13:05
    I've got Vonne Rich, of Mt. Home, AR, for $1000.
  8. Earl Capps 3/11/06 13:11
    i posted his contributors' list. enjoy.

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