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A group with ties to Gov. Nikki Haley is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to advocate for unspecified conservative candidates and causes in South Carolina during the November election and the legislative session that starts in January.
The political organization, called The Movement Fund Inc., can raise unlimited amounts of money from groups and individuals, then spend it to endorse or attack candidates and causes. The fund, which had raised $555,000 from four donors as of mid-August, also could become involved in unspecified national races.
The Movement Fund is unequivocally backed by supporters of Governor Haley who want to support her conservative reform agenda, said one of its directors, Chad Walldorf, the Haley-appointed chairman of the states Board of Economic Advisors. The group has consistently followed all requirements for public disclosure during its 18 months of existence and looks forward to moving forward with its advocacy efforts.
The Movement Fund, a tax-exempt, federally recognized 527 organization, was formed in March 2011. The organization is prohibited from coordinating its activities with any candidate, including Haley.
But the fund should have little difficulty ensuring its priorities and Haleys are in sync. Haley appointee Walldorf and Kurt Grindstaff of Hilton Head, treasurer of Haleys 2010 campaign for governor, are two of the organizations three directors. So far, the fund has raised big money from four wealthy donors, all out-of-state residents who have ties to Haley.
According to IRS filings, which lay out the funds donations and expenses, the group has received:
• $5,000 from New York-based multimillionaire developer and TV celebrity Donald Trump, who has also given $7,000 to Haleys campaign for governor in 2010 and her upcoming 2014 re-election race.
• $250,000 from Foster Friess, a Wyoming-based multimillionaire who gave more than $2 million to former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorums unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination. Friess also contributed $3,500 to Haleys 2010 race.
• $250,000 from Bob J. Perry, a multimillionaire Houston, Texas, homebuilder who previously contributed $7,000 to Haley. Perry has given millions to other Republican candidates and political action committees.
• $50,000 from Dr. Kris Singh of Hobe Sound, Fla., who has contributed $3,500 to Haleys 2014 re-election campaign. Singh, chief executive officer of Holtec International, appeared at a press conference with Haley earlier this year to tout emerging nuclear technology. Singh said he hopes to build the first underground nuclear reactor at the Savannah River Site, near Aiken.
The Movement Fund also has paid out thousands to political operatives connected to Haley.
• $72,000 to Red Sea LLC, the polling and political consulting firm operated by Haley political guru Jon Lerner, for what was described as professional fees.
• $1,357 to reimburse Tim Pearson, Haleys chief of staff, for travel in September 2011. Pearson was traveling on his personal time at the time of the trip, not serving in his official state capacity, a fund spokesman said.
Haleys office declined to discuss the committee, saying it does not involve her duties as governor.
Help for Rice, Shealy?
The fund, run by Haley allies, could be a boon for the first-term Republican governor from Lexington.
It will advocate for Haley and candidates she supports in upcoming elections, S.C. politicos said. Haley has indicated she will be involved in the November general election, as she was in the January presidential primary, endorsing GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who finished second in South Carolina.
In November, Haley could weigh in to help Republican Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach against Democrat Gloria Tinubu of Georgetown in the race for the new 7th District congressional seat. Haley campaigned for Rice during the June GOP primaries.
Haley also could aid write-in candidate Katrina Shealy, who is running against Republican incumbent Jake Knotts, a Haley foe, in the District 23 state Senate race.
The fund could also deter any would-be GOP primary challengers with ideas about opposing Haley in 2014.
In addition to the $555,000 in the fund, Haleys campaign has raised about $1 million for her upcoming reelection bid, according to its most recent filings.
Expected changes to the states ethics laws would not affect the funds ability to raise and spend money without limits.
State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, chairman of the Senates ethics committee, and other state senators are expected to launch an effort to update the states ethics laws in the coming legislative session.
One change they are likely to seek is to define the word committee in state law, a definition that would help re-establish limits on the amount of money that political organizations can accept from individuals and groups. (Prior to a 2010 court ruling, those organizations could only accept up to $3,500 from individuals or group during each election cycle.)
But because the Haley-allied Movement Fund is a federally recognized 527 political organization, it would not have to follow any new limits set in state law, a fund spokesman said. That would allow it to continue to receive six-figure checks from wealthy donors.
Allies of previous S.C. governors have used political action committees and other similar groups to throw their weight around in the past.
Former Gov. Mark Sanford, for example, had both an S.C. political action committee and ReformSC, an educational, nonprofit 501(c) (4) organization, allowed to accept and spend unlimited amounts.
That organization ran TV ads supporting Sanfords push to restructure state government, worked to oust lawmakers who voted against Sanfords priorities and ran ads supporting Haley before the 2010 GOP primary.