Branton's End: The price of negative campaigning in Dorchester County

For today's lesson in what unethical campaign "dirty tricks" can get you, we present the example of former State Senator Bill Branton of Dorchester County, who has gone to ground to duck a series of fines and judgments over his past campaigns.

Last spring, the Post and Courier was assured that he would address his mounting fines for not filing campaign disclosures from his 2002 campaign for Governor (which he lost). With nearly $40,000 in fines still due, it's obvious he hasn't settled the matter after all.

If you think not filing forms or paying fines is bad enough ... it pales in comparison to the mess he made this spring, in his attempt to make a comeback from his stunning 2004 landslide ouster from his State Senate seat, where Randy Scott defeated him by 63-37%:

Mr. Branton now faces a judgment for an attempt to send out a mailing from an anonymous group, making false claims about the County Council incumbent he sought to defeat.

The damages continue to mount from a negative flier that Dorchester County Council Chairman Skip Elliott says cost him a re-election bid this summer.

A judge will tell former Sen. Bill Branton how much money he owes Elliott next month. Elliott sued Branton for libel, and Branton failed to respond to the complaint. Elliott is seeking actual and punitive damages.

Meanwhile, two companies that helped print and mail the flier have been left holding the bag for the bill.

The flier arrived in Summerville mailboxes a few days before the Republican primary in June. It implied that Elliott had voted for his own property deals on council.

Actually, Elliott's father conducted the deals, and Elliott recused himself when council voted on them. The mailing urged people to "vote for anybody but Walter 'Skip' Elliott."

The flier was labeled as paid for by Citizens for Change, an unregistered name for which nobody claimed responsibility. Branton denied knowing anything about it, as did Elliott's other opponent, Jamie Feltner.

- Charleston Post and Courier (12/9/2006)

For all his trouble, he finished third and didn't even make it into the runoff. Then he tried running for the school board in the fall ... and then quit the race.

In any event, Bill's blustering and ranting on the campaign about "backroom deals" and "my daughters won't even move back here" can be put into a more informed perspective with the lies and sleazy games that have come to light about his own campaign conduct. If he doesn't run for office again, the people of Dorchester County will be better off for it ... and he won't be missed.

11 Response to "Branton's End: The price of negative campaigning in Dorchester County"

  1. Brian McCarty 11/12/06 09:23
    Negative politics rarely works at the local level. Too many people know the guy someone is attacking. Folks just don't believe that stuff about a guy they know.
  2. upstart vice 11/12/06 11:23
    One corollary from this, you've got to be a Republican or a non-lawyer to be convicted for slander or libel during a campaign, else it has most recently been excused as being just a naughty lawyer trick, but that's James Island politics.
  3. Earl Capps 11/12/06 11:42
    vice - i do wonder exactly how one can nail down actual damages. there's a lot of subjectivity to all of this.

    but i do agree that there is some form of punishment due, as Branton:

    1) Knew the difference between Councilman Elliott and his father, and deliberately distorted and misrepresented this, and

    2) Sent a mailing from a fictitious campaign organization, in an attempt to mask the identity of the real sponsor. No doubt the revelation of this connection would have done noticable damage to the smiling "hey buddy" image Bill Branton has spent years trying to cultivate.

    I'm sure this, combined with the mounting Ethics fines, will undo most of this facade.

    I hope this sends a message that this kind of trash is not welcome here and those who choose to engage in those tactics anyway should be aware someone might just drag them out into the light of day.
  4. Anonymous 11/12/06 15:32
    branton's a snake in the grass. glad to see him get what he long had coming. what a jerk.
  5. Saluda Redneck 11/12/06 15:33
    i bet you think you're so important, putting this out there.

    i'm sure you have a lot of room to talk. you and all of your stupid readers.
  6. Anonymous 12/12/06 01:27
    I find the name Saluda Reneck to be apropo. Moreover, do you think if we can read and Earl can type we are merely ignorant? Afterall, stupid is forever but ignorance can be fixed.

    Brian is correct unless the negatives were created by the candidate and are well documented and even known by a few of the locals.

    With regard to Earl's definition of vice, are defemation and libel a vice? And I believe if the defrocked Branton spent over $400 or thereabouts he hould have filed a ethics report. But what do I know I am stooped.

    PS: Earl is one of the finest gentlemen and politicos in the state.
  7. Earl Capps 12/12/06 07:14
    anon 0127 - my reference to vice was the name of a previous poster.

    your comments are appreciated, but i don't know if i can agree with your "finest gentleman" remark. i'm not THAT good.

    i'm just someone with a mouth, an attitude, a computer, and something to say once in a while. that don't make me THAT special.
  8. Anonymous 12/12/06 09:45
    dude at least you're honest. you outta try keeping it in your pants once in a while.
  9. Moye 12/12/06 22:08
    Upstart vice you got it right.
  10. Anonymous 13/12/06 06:09
    Branton lost. What was the harm done? I don't see the lawsuit.

    There actually has to be harm done, and we all know that in politics, the standard for libel or slander is very, very high.

    Isn't this a waste of time in some aspects?

    Sure, the guy is a creep. But, being a creep in politics is not a recoverable civil offense.
  11. Earl Capps 13/12/06 06:42
    anon - i agree. proving the loss of the election was due to this single mailing, even with a close margin, is still very hard to prove.

    further, as most campaigns are largely financed through contributions, you can't always say the candidate lost that much directly. i presume if individual contributors would have to be plantiffs as well to recover.

    i'd say award a dollar in actual damages, if nothing else, and since he did this in violation of ethics laws, which require disclosure, hit him with a ton of punitive damages. if that's possible, and i don't know if it is.

    as the action was brought originally against the mail firm, and branton's name only turned up later on, the intent of the lawsuit is to expose the culprit, which it's done.

    it will certainly hurt bill's image.

    but when you think about it, he's more the perennial candidate anyway. he lost elections in 1988, 2002, 2004, and 2006, as well as entering and quitting a school board race in the fall of 2006.

    i do remember a frantic speaking appearance he made in 2004, when he was in the runoff, badly trailing randy scott, and started railing against rod shealy, to the effect of "we're gonna run him and his dirty tricks out of dorchester county".

    how ironic.

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

To post a comment without having a Blogger account, select "Name/URL", put your name in, but leave the URL line blank. Email me if you'd like to comment, but need help making it work.