COLUMBIA, SC — The S.C. Republican Party on Thursday had an attorney tell Tom Ervin, a petition candidate running for governor, to stop calling himself an Independent Republican in campaign ads, threatening a lawsuit.
By afternoon, the S.C. Democratic Party had called a press conference to accuse Gov. Nikki Haley of breaking state ethics law by accepting a donation twice the maximum amount allowed from one contributor, reported on Haley's campaign disclosures as two contributions from the same name and address.
Haleys campaign refuted the claim, producing two checks written from two different businesses.
So went the dueling news conferences in the S.C. governors race: the April 24 edition.
At his news conference Thursday, S.C. GOP chairman Matt Moore threatened to sue Greenvilles Ervin, a former judge and state lawmaker. Ervin had filed to run as a Republican against Haley in Junes GOP primary but withdrew, saying he wanted more time to campaign and would run as a petition candidate on Novembers ballot.
Ervin, who started running TV ads Monday, said he is not worried at all about the state GOPs request, coming, he said, from the status quo, special-interest politicians.
Ive got a card in my pocket from the S.C. Republican Party that confirms that Im a sustaining member, Ervin said. Thankfully, we live in a country where we have freedom of speech.
Im a Republican. Im also an independent.
The state GOPs cease-and-desist letter says Ervin forfeited the right to call himself a Republican when he exited the primary.
Continuing to call himself a Republican could mislead voters into thinking he is the GOPs candidate, the party contends.
Its false advertising, Moore said. As a former judge, he should know better.
There is no way to be a Republican unless you win one of our primaries in June or you run unopposed in the primary and are declared the nominee by the party.
Asked whether that would apply to the dozens of Republicans kicked off the June 2012 primary ballot for improperly filing paperwork who later ran calling themselves Republican petition candidates, Moore said those candidates did not count because they were endorsed by the Republican Party.
Moore said the state party is reviewing its legal options if Ervin refuses to comply, but he could cite no state law that makes Ervins actions illegal. Instead, the GOP cited a 1961 New York state case, limiting the right to use the Republican Partys name.
If the Republican Party is relying on New York law, I guess gay marriage is going to be OK here, said Columbia attorney Dick Harpootlian, a former S.C. Democratic Party chairman, when asked to review the case.
Cathy Hazelwood, general counsel with the State Ethics Commission, said nothing in state ethics law bars candidates from calling themselves members of any party.
State election law only defines how candidates are nominated to represent a party on the ballot.
No matter what Ervin calls himself, if he is running as a petition candidate, he will be identified as such on the ballot, said Chris Whitmire with the State Election Commission.
Ervin said the GOP does not have a trademark on being Republican, Later, in an email, Ervin encouraged Haley to join him in opposing frivolous lawsuits.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story erroneously said the campaign checks Haley's campaign presented were from the same address. The addresses were different.