Politics & Government

No race? No problem. SC lieutenant governor OK’d to raise money

S.C. Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant can keep raising money for his office – campaigning for a race that does not exist, state ethics officials say.

Since taking office in January, filling the vacancy left by Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster becoming governor, Bryant has been raising money as lieutenant governor – $101,000 as of June 30, including about $60,000 he transferred from his state Senate campaign account.

That fundraising has prompted questions about whether the Anderson Republican, who is mulling a run for governor, legally can be raising money. After all, starting next year, popular elections for lieutenant governor will end, and candidates for governor will choose who gets to run alongside them as lieutenant governor, just as U.S. presidential candidates choose their vice presidential running mates.

Despite that change, S.C. State Ethics Commission director Steve Hamm says Bryant’s campaign account is lawful.

The new law requiring the joint election of the governor and lieutenant governor takes effect “beginning with the general election of 2018,” Hamm said, citing a January S.C. Supreme Court opinion.

State law’s definition of a candidate also gives Bryant cover to raise money, Hamm said.

Under state law, a “candidate” is “a person who seeks appointment, nomination for election, or election to a statewide or local office,” Hamm said.

Translation? Bryant can raise money for a campaign aimed at persuading a gubernatorial hopeful to ask him to be his or her lieutenant governor in next year’s general election.

Nothing in state law limits a candidate from opening a campaign account to raise money in an effort “to be nominated or appointed lieutenant governor,” Hamm said.

Lawmakers mulling election fix

The change in state law has created a unique moment in S.C. politics, with a candidate – Bryant – campaigning for a race that does not exist.

Lawmakers also have one big snag left to smooth out before filing for statewide office starts next March.

Though voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution calling for candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket, state law does not outline the process for how gubernatorial hopefuls pick their wing-men or women.

Until that happens, candidates should operate under current state law, which says filing for lieutenant governor starts next March, Hamm said.

S.C. Election Commission director Chris Whitmire said state lawmakers are mulling a bill to end candidates filing for lieutenant governor and establishing an Aug. 1 deadline for a party’s candidate for governor to name their lieutenant governor-running mate.

If lawmakers do not pass that bill early next year, state election officials will have a lot of legal questions about how to proceed, Whitmire added.