A political group with close ties to Gov. Mark Sanford has bought $400,000 in television ads just one month before South Carolina primary voters head to the polls.
While there are no direct ties between the group and Rep. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington, the ads are expected to boost her gubernatorial campaign by highlighting one of her campaign's signature issues - on-the-record voting in the General Assembly.
The group, ReformSC, has purchased two weeks of advertising air time in television markets across the state beginning next week, according to officials with television stations and a copy of the ad buy obtained by The State.
In a news release, the group said the ads will highlight H. 3047, a measure to require roll call votes in the Legislature. The measure is sponsored by Haley, who is one of four candidates seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
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"We'll just as soon let the ads speak for themselves," said Pat McKinney, ReformSC's chairman, declining to discuss their content. McKinney only would say the size of the ad buy that ReformSC made was "substantial."
ReformSC was formed to support two-term Republican Gov. Sanford's push for restructuring state government. It ran television ads before the 2008 primary elections, featuring the governor, to push Sanford's restructuring platform. The group was a key cog in attempts to oust lawmakers who had voted against Sanford's priorities. All three ReformSC board members have given Haley the maximum $3,500 campaign contribution.
Groups such as ReformSC, a 501(c)(4) educational nonprofit, have a controversial role in politics. Unlike candidates, the groups can accept and spend unlimited amounts of money, and have no duty to disclose their donors. While campaign laws forbid ads by the nonprofit ReformSC from requesting a vote for or against a particular candidate, the ads could serve to introduce Haley and her policies to voters around the state who still may be unfamiliar with the Lexington County lawmaker. ReformSC has purchased $52,000 in advertising time over the next two weeks in the key GOP primary market of Greenville alone, according to advertising executives with WYFF.
Haley has less money on hand, $532,000, than her three Republican rivals - U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett of Westminster, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer of Greenville and Attorney General Henry McMaster of Columbia - each of whom had at least $1.3 million on hand, according to the latest campaign finance reports
But the RefromSC ads could help level the playing field.
ReformSC chairman McKinney would not identify his organization's donors but said the money did not come from Sanford's leftover campaign fund, which totals $1.17 million, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.
"This money was raised for ReformSC over the past several years," McKinney said.
Haley's campaign said it was unaware of any ads purchased.
However, there are clear ties between Sanford and his allies and Haley.
Sanford encouraged Haley to run for governor, but she has tried to distance herself from the governor since he admitted to an extra-marital affair last June.
But the S.C. Club for Growth, founded by former Sanford allies and employees, endorsed Haley Thursday. Sanford's ex-wife, Jenny, also has endorsed Haley.
Haley's Republican rivals said the involvement of third-party groups using secret funding in the governor's campaign would contradict Haley's support of government transparency.
"If they honestly support transparency, then they need to start by disclosing who is funding these ads and how much they have given," said Barrett spokesman B.J. Boling.
McMaster spokesman Trey Walker said voters are "hungry for a governor who has earned their trust" and is willing to work with the Legislature. Both Sanford and Haley have had high-profile fights with lawmakers.
Walker said the ReformSC ad buy means television advertising featuring Haley will likely run from next week until the June 8 primary.
The GOP money race
Each candidate's cash on hand according to the latest state campaign reports.
U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, $1.6 million
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, $1.4 million
Rep. Nikki Haley, $530,000
Attorney General Henry McMaster $1.4 million
The State will look at the issues that will decide the Republican nomination for governor.