The Buzz

ELECTION 2014: Bill Connor says flap over campaign signs amounts to political "hit"

U.S. Senate hopeful and Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor dismissed flap over the re-purposing of campaign signs from his 2010 race for lieutenant governor, saying the signs were not put up in coordination with his campaign.

The Buzz received an anonymous email from "John Q. Public" raising questions about the use of the campaign signs, which had the words "US SENATE" stenciled in white spray paint over "Lt. Governor."

"These were supporters who had signs from my lieutenant governor's race. We didn't coordinate it, we didn't do it," said Connor, who is one of four Republicans running against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in June's primary.

"Obviously we support their passion," Connor said, adding that his campaign has not bought signs yet and would encourage anyone to follow laws governing campaigns.

The email said the sign constituted an illegal transfer of assets from Connor's statewide campaign to his federal campaign. Also, the signs have a disclaimer on them that they are paid for by his lieutenant governor campaign.

Connor said the sign were not his campaign's, and he did not know about or authorize the use of the signs.

Federal campaign law prohibits a candidate's authorized campaign committee from accepting transfers of funds or assets from a candidate's non-federal campaign committee. It also requires that campaign communications include disclaimers saying who paid for them. Federal campaigns also prohibit direct corporate donations, which South Carolina campaigns allow.

If the candidate's campaign had nothing to do with the use of the signs, then the only legal question remaining would be related to the disclaimer rules, said Paul Ryan, senior counsel for the Washington, D.C., Campaign Legal Center.

But the requirement to include a disclaimer is triggered when money is spent on the campaign material, he said.

If someone acting independently of a campaign decided to spray paint an old sign from a candidate's previous campaign, They have not made a disbursement at all if they haven't spent any money. They're just re-purposing old materials," Ryan said. If they spent money to re-purpose the signs, that might constitute a "technical violation," but likely one that would be viewed as "insignificant" by the Federal Election Commission, he said.

Connor said he first learned about the sign when he was driving to Saturday's Carolina-Clemson football game. A friend called him after seeing one of the signs.

"No one in the campaign is going to coordinate stenciling in 'senate,'" Connor said.

"As far as hits go, if this is the tone of the race, it's a bit disappointing, because this is one anyone could figure out. I think you could reasonably assume they were supporters who were a bit overzealous and not coordinating with the campaign."