COLUMBIA, SC — The one Democrat who has announced a run for South Carolina’s GOP-packed congressional delegation has a past that includes a felony plea, an agreement to repay millions to investors, and a penchant for what he calls “political performance art.”
Few state Democratic leaders know much about Jeremy “Jay” Stamper, a 41-year-old who says he moved to Columbia from Washington state this year because he loves the Palmetto State and wants to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“Everyone would want to live in South Carolina if they have the choice,” Stamper, who started a Columbia nonprofit currently in “hibernation,” said in a phone interview with The State. “There was also the opportunity to run for U.S. Senate against someone who I disagree with on almost every major issue.”
Jaime Harrison, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, says he has met Stamper a couple of times.
“(Stamper) hasn’t been a known commodity in the party,” Harrison said. “He just came onto the scene.”
As more candidates show an interest in seeking the Democratic Senate nomination, the party will “do some vetting and screening of our candidates because it’s important.”
Democrats were surprised in 2010 when Alvin Greene, an unknown, unemployed Army veteran, beat retired judge Vic Rawl for the Democratic nomination in the race against U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint. The eccentric, troubled Greene lost to DeMint, 61 percent to 28 percent, after embarrassed Democrats considered — and then rejected — tossing Greene off the ballot.
Stamper’s criminal history stems from a business called Federal Savings that he started in 2006 while living in Seattle.
Stamper sold investments online, but Washington state regulators ordered him to shut down the business in 2007, saying neither he nor his securities were registered. They also said the websites that Stamper used to sell the investments could have misled investors into thinking they were investing in banking institutions with significant financial backing, according to the Washington state cease-and-desist order.
Stamper says he did not mislead anyone. Attorneys told him he did not need to register, he adds. He agreed to pay back about $5 million to more than 200 investors in 37 states, according to news reports.
“I was given bad advice by attorneys,” he said, adding there was “no damage to any investors except to me. I’ve left a trail of happy investors in my wake.”
According to Nevada court records, Stamper pleaded guilty to three state felony charges related to the business. He says he took the plea deal after being threatened with a life sentence. The sentence that he received — $10,225 in fines and probation — proves the charges were unjustified, he told The State last week.
Before Federal Savings, Stamper made headlines with his Council on Political Accountability. Through it, he bought web domains with addresses that included politicians’ names and linked them to websites promoting cannibalism, white supremacy, marijuana cultivation and turning breast milk into cheese, among other “extremist causes,” Wired magazine reported in 2004.
Asked about those activities, Stamper chuckled, and said, at the time, he saw himself as a “political performance artist,” driven by the satisfaction of “tweaking authority.” He added he since has abandoned the practice, which targeted “in the hundreds” of politicians.
“My early radicalism has matured into a pragmatic sort of idealism,” he said.
He added, “The websites I was linking to were so absurd and, in some cases, revolting that no one could reasonably think that a member of Congress would link to it.”
Stamper also said he has formed other companies, including one he sold that offered services to businesses wanting to incorporate in Delaware, a failed real-estate company and a website for rating people that he shut down because he found the user-generated content “depressing.”
Stamper’s nonprofit, started to help businesses through social media, currently has no staff and, he added, is on hold while he focuses on the campaign.
Thin Democratic field
With no campaign staff and less than $2,000 in cash on hand as of his most recent federal campaign finance filing, Stamper is the only Democrat who has declared to run against Graham, a Seneca Republican seeking his third term who has more than $6 million in the bank.
Stamper says he is in the race to win it but acknowledges he would have a better chance if one of Graham’s GOP primary challengers beats the incumbent.
State Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg, Easley businessman and former U.S. House candidate Richard Cash, and Nancy Mace, the Citadel’s first female graduate, have said they will mount GOP primary challenges against Graham.
Though filing for U.S. House and Senate seats does not start until next year, the paucity of Democratic candidates showing interest in the federal offices shows the weakness of the state’s Democratic organization, said Mark Tompkins, a University of South Carolina political science professor.
“It’s trouble that they’re not already out there raising money and raising voters’ awareness of who they are,” Tompkins said. “Good candidates start early these days.”
A lot of attention has been focused on the state’s first-ever rematch in the governor’s race between Gov. Nikki Haley, a Lexington Republican, and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Camden Democrat. Democratic state Rep. Mike Anthony of Union also has announced he plans to run for the state education superintendent against Republican incumbent Mick Zais.
Other Democrats are considering runs.
Rick Wade, formerly an Obama campaigner, adviser and deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Commerce Department, said Thursday he will know by the end of the month whether he will challenge U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, the North Charleston Republican who Haley appointed to the Senate after DeMint resigned to run the Heritage Foundation.
Scott, a former 1st District congressman, has never run for a statewide seat. Wade, who helped Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2002, losing to Republican Mark Hammond by 14 percentage points.
State Sen. John Scott, D-Richland, also is thinking about running against Scott, he said Friday, adding he will know more about his plans by mid-October.
Myrtle Beach attorney Harry Pavilack, who placed fifth among five candidates in the Democratic primary for the state’s newly formed 7th District congressional seat in 2012, also has a U.S. Senate campaign website but has not committed to running.
In 2012, Republicans beat Democrats in five of the seven congressional districts by wide margins, ranging from 11 to 33 percentage points. (Democrats did not contest another district.)
The exception is U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat. Clyburn won his majority African-American 6th District by 18 points in 2010, when he faced a Republican challenger, and by 88 points in 2012, when he was opposed only by a Green Party candidate.
With the redrawing of congressional district lines after the 2010 Census, Republicans gained an even greater advantage in many U.S. House races in South Carolina, said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political science professor. As a result, Democrats have a harder time recruiting viable candidates.
Harrison, the state Democratic Party leader, said while some congressional districts are more competitive than others, it is still important to have Democratic candidates on the ballot so that voters have choices and hear debate on the issues.
Harrison said he has heard interest from candidates in South Carolina’s 2nd, 5th and 7th congressional districts, currently held by Republican U.S. Reps. Joe Wilson of Springdale, Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land and Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach.
However, Harrison declined to name those potential candidates. “They need to do the political calculus (first).”
Another Alvin Greene?
S.C. newcomer Jay Stamper says he will seek the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat now held by Republican Lindsey Graham. Who is Stamper?
Background: Born in Spokane, Wash., grew up outside Seattle
Personal: Married to Marnie Briggs Stamper
Education: Went to Connecticut College
Business history: The Delaware Co., Federal Savings, Progressive Homesellers and Personratings.com
Where’s a Democrat to win?
Republicans hold six of South Carolina’s seven congressional seats and, Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon says, the recent redrawing of those districts has made it even more difficult for Democratic candidates to contest those races. Where does a Democrat stand the best chance of competing? In the 5th and 7th districts, according to the 2012 congressional races. A look at those results:
11 points — Margin by which 5th District U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, Republican from Indian Land, defeated Democrat Joyce Knott in 2012, up from a 10-point win in 2010 against then-incumbent John Spratt, a Democrat
11 points — Margin by which U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, Republican from Myrtle Beach, won the newly created 7th District seat in 2012 against Democrat Gloria Bromell Tinubu
26 points — Margin by which then- 1st District U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, Republican from North Charleston, won in 2012 against Democrat Bobbie Rose, down from a 37-point win in 2010. (The 1st District seat now is held by Republican Mark Sanford, who defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a special election earlier this year by 9 percentage points.)
31 points — Margin by which 4th District U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, Republican from Greenville, won in 2012 against Democrat Deb Morrow, down from a 35-point win in 2010
33 points — Margin by which 3rd District U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, Republican from Laurens, won in 2012 against Democrat Brian Doyle, up from a 26-point win in 2010
93 points — Margin by which 2nd District U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, Republican from Springdale, won against a write-in candidate in 2012. In 2010, Wilson won by 10 points against a Democrat.
Lone Democratic seat
88 points — Margin by which 6th District U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, Democrat from Columbia, won against a Green Party candidate, up from an 18-point win against a Republican in 2010
Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.