Politics & Government

Textile king weaves security blanket for GOP

Billionaire Roger Milliken will match contributions to pay off the mortgage on the GOP's headquarters in Columbia.
Billionaire Roger Milliken will match contributions to pay off the mortgage on the GOP's headquarters in Columbia.

The state Republican Party has enlisted Spartanburg textile magnate Roger Milliken to help the party pay off the $340,000 mortgage on its Columbia headquarters building.

The party hopes to spend an additional $160,000 to upgrade the building to meet environmental-efficiency standards, as well as add a media center to produce campaign materials for candidates.

Milliken, 93, has agreed to match contributions to pay off the mortgage until early December. Milliken asked the party to consider renovations to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, or LEED, which help lower energy, water and other building-generated resource costs.

"This will significantly improve the operating costs of the building," Milliken said, noting that 30 states, including South Carolina, have required or encourage public buildings to meet LEED standards. "Leaders all over the world are advocating the multiple advantages of sustainability."

Green building expert Jeffrey Ross-Bain said the renovations of the 5,000-square-foot building, built in 1973, will save the party $3,000 to $4,000 a year on utility bills. Ross-Bain said the building would need improvements to the roof, ventilation, heating and air-conditioning systems, pipes, windows and light fixtures. In addition, the renovations would improve access for the disabled.

S.C. GOP chairwoman Karen Floyd said she hoped to have the party debt-free by 2010, and paying off the mortgage was a major step toward that goal.

Milliken is considered a political godfather by many state Republicans, and House Speaker Bobby Harrell said this is just the latest example of his donating money and time to Republicans.

In 1964, Milliken backed U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona in the presidential election. Goldwater lost the election to President Lyndon Johnson, but laid the groundwork for Republicans across the country to emerge.

That included South Carolina, where Democrats had dominated politics since the end of the Civil War. State Sen. John Courson noted that Milliken's support for Goldwater convinced U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond to become a Republican.

"It was an act of unprecedented political courage," Courson said of Thurmond's switch. "The unsung hero of all of this was Roger Milliken. A non-elected official who put his resources, who put his contacts out there for Barry Goldwater."

Milliken's gift will match donations in $25,000 increments, Floyd said. Once the mortgage is paid, she said, the party can focus those resources on the next generation of candidates.

According to reports filed with the State Ethics Commission in July, the most recent available, the S.C. GOP had $21,400 on hand in its operating account and $487 in its campaign account. Those totals were down from 2008, when the party spent $213,387 from its operating account mostly on campaign-related costs prior to that year's general election.

Floyd said the renovated headquarters will include a media lab to help candidates produce high-tech campaign materials, such as podcasts, that can be downloaded to portable audio players. Those services will also generate revenue for the party.