Monday, July 30, 2007

GoodLand Bar-Be-Que

This weekend, millions of people went to Springfield, the home of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, as "The Simpsons Movie" saw opening weekend ticket sales of over $70 million. The Bridges family also made a pilgrimage to Springfield, but not that one. We journeyed to Springfield, South Carolina, home of the Palmetto State’s oldest flea market and one of its finest restaurants: GoodLand BarBeQue.

Which isn’t to say we didn’t get to see our share of recent movies during our time in Orangeburg County. In fact, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” was being featured on a portable DVD player by one of the flea market vendors. Must be some exclusive deal with Universal Studios or something.

If you ever have doubts that America is the great melting pot, the Springfield Flea Market is the place you need to go. You’ll see Amish whites traversing the dirt floor looking for bargains, cowboy Latinos pushing strollers through the meandering lines of patrons, and black farmers selling their produce and livestock. Vendors offer everything from herbal fragrances to roosters to salvation, and you can even get your hands on that stuffed Alf doll you’ve always wanted.

After Hannah Jane purchased a kid’s chair, a badly tarnished silver plate, and a watermelon that Gervais got to carry under his arm, the family headed a mile or so down the road to GoodLand. Nothing, after all, goes together like flea markets and barbecue.

GoodLand is a world class barbecue joint. On the buffet, there was pulled pork, fried fish, fried chicken, hash, rice, green beans, lima beans, sweet potatoes, potato salad, and several desserts. You get your choice of sauce for the pulled pork. I’m not going to tell you which I chose; let’s just say that the last time I gave blood, the Red Cross had to designate a new blood-type, “mustard positive.”

Several trophy fish lined the walls of GoodLand, and they weren’t the only thing that was “off the hook.” The hash, a Barr Family recipe, was reddish and thick, and mixed nicely with the sweet cole slaw. The mustard sauce was similar to the sweet mustard sauce you might find at Maurice’s, and according to literature on the walls it is derived from an old Inabinet Family recipe. GoodLand claims to be “where the best local recipes merge on one table.”

Everything about this place was great, and I most certainly outdid myself. Gervais says, if you feel like making a Homer Simpson of y’own self, take a road trip to Springfield, South Carolina. Instead of “d’oh,” you’ll be saying, “mmmm … barbecue.”

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lobbying with federal grant money, etc.


So while researching the four voucher lobbying groups whose common origin is 1620 Gervais St., Suite B (South Carolinians for Responsible Government, Clergy for Educational Options, the Center for Grassroots and Community Alternatives, and the Southern Association of Black Independent Schools) Gervais came across an awesome website that gives tax information for various non-profits.

I could probably devote many posts to all the good stuff I've found on this site, and knowing me I might, but here's the best stuff so far:


1. Lobbying for vouchers with your tax money: 97% of CEO's 2005 revenues ($77,525 out of $80,134) came from government contributions (grants). Click on the picture at left for a larger view.

2. Dial "M" for Millionaire Libertarian: At first I thought there was a misprint on SCRG's 2004 tax filing, where the group's phone number is listed with an "847" area code. That's not a South Carolina number! But after a little more poking around, I realized that it was pretty accurate: it's the number for Howard Rich's U.S. Term Limits organization. Oops!

3. One guess where it came from: The SC Center for Grassroots and Community Alternatives received $489,000 in funding in 2005, the same year SCCGCA created the other two African-American pro-voucher groups. Source (.pdf)

4. Must be nice: $1,079,192. That's how much money was poured into SCRG in 2005. God knows how much it got last year, during the elections. SCRG President Randy Page is the only paid employee listed on SCRG's 2005 tax return. His compensation: $70,000, for 20 hours a week. Source (.pdf)

5. How he can afford to pay people $70,000 for 20 hours a week: To get an idea of just how much voucher cash Howard Rich has at his disposal, here are a few of his other organizations and their worth: Legislative Education Action Drive (total assets: $1,132,366), Parents in Charge Foundation (total assets: $6,472,622), Americans for Limited Government Foundation (total assets: $4,540,703). Source.

That's all for now. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

More on Clergy for Educational Options

So we left off asking the question: is Clergy for Educational Options a genuine, independent South Carolina voice for the voucher plan, or is it just an SCRG affiliate with an African-American face?

Turns out, Gervais wasn’t the first person to ever make such a query. A couple months ago, Warren Bolton of The State posed the same question to the two front-men of CEO, Reverend Richard L. Davis and Thomas Simuel:

The Rev. Davis and Mr. Simuel said they share SCRG’s and others’ desire for private school choice and work with them to help bring that about, but they have no other connection. Their sphere of agreement with SCRG pretty much begins and ends with school choice, they said.

So there you have it. According to CEO, the group has “no other connection” with SCRG besides their shared notion about school choice. Still, I thought I’d investigate a little more, so I went to the Secretary of State’s website.

Suffice it to say Rev. Davis and Mr. Simuel have a very narrow definition of “connection.” When Clergy for Educational Options filed with the Secretary of State in 2005, its address was 1620 Gervais Street (Suite B) in Columbia.

Don’t remember seeing the sign there? Maybe it was hidden behind the South Carolinians for Responsible Government sign. At 1620 Gervais Street. Suite B.

I called Reverend Davis to see if I could get an explanation.

On the phone, Rev. Davis said Clergy for Educational Options is not a spin-off of South Carolinians for Responsible Government. When I asked him about the address, he explained that CEO was spawned from the other suite-mate at the time, the “Center for Grassroots and Community Alternatives.” The same year, the Center for Grassroots also created the “Southern Association of Black Independent Schools.”

In other words, 1620 Gervais Street (Suite B) was home to four pro-voucher groups in 2005: South Carolinians for Responsible Government, Clergy for Educational Options, the Center for Grassroots and Community Alternatives, and the Southern Association of Black Independent Schools. There was also a family of houseflies, but they left when they realized the voucher groups were multiplying faster than they were.

But Davis says not to read too much into the suite-sharing. The Center for Grassroots, according to Davis, is merely a “collaborative partner” of SCRG.

Davis contended that CEO has a membership of 300 churches. He said that while “a little bit of money” comes from sources such as the Walton Family Foundation, most of his funding comes from the churches. He said, and I quote, “Howie hasn’t done much for us at all.”

I asked him if his own church was a member, and he said yes. But when I asked him where his church was located, he explained that really CEO has become the focal point of his pastoring at the moment.

Rev. Davis was a nice guy, and I appreciate the fact that he took the time to talk. He seems sincere about his mission, and he says vouchers of some form, from food stamps to Pell Grants, have sustained the poor community for years.

Davis insisted his group didn’t have the same focus as SCRG, because he advocated vouchers while SCRG advocated tax credits. When I pressed him to distinguish between the two, he said, “I don’t believe tax credits help my constituency.”

I really don’t know what to make of all this hydra-headedness from SCRG's former offices at Suite B. Obviously, it adds a few lines of multiculturalism to paragraphs like this:

The [Put Parents in Charge] "Exploratory Team" is comprised of Charleston Developer Thomas Ravenel, Former State Superintendent Dr. Barbara Nielsen, Morgan Stanley Vice President Ben Rast, Dispoz-O Products Director Karen Iacovelli, Columbia Metropolitan Magazine Publisher Henry Clay, Southern Assoc. of Black Independent Schools Exec. Director Rich Thompson, Center for Grassroots and Community Alternatives President Stephen Gilchrist and Executive Minister of Clergy for Educational Options Rev. Richard Davis. (source)

Not to mention paragraphs like this:

Fortunately, strong advocates have lined up to support the Act, including Black Mothers Perspective[?], The Clergy for Educational Options and the Southern Association of Black Independent Schools. (source)

And it even lends an air of gravitas to guest columns:

As the executive director of the newly formed Southern Association of Black Independent Schools, I urge Mr. Stephens and other critics to look at the facts and support this proposed reform. (source)

But it seems to me, with all due respect to Rev. Davis, that the only voices advocating the Put Parents in Charge agenda from the black community are those created to advocate Put Parents in Charge from the black community.

But that's me. I encourage you to visit the websites of these outfits yourself, and come up with your own conclusion.

CEO
SCCGCA
SABIS
SCRG

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Clergy for Educational Options

If you can’t tell, here at Barbecue & Politics I like pulling the string on the whole “South Carolina” voucher lobby.

It all started in earnest last year, when I stumbled across the fact that a member of the S.C. Education Oversight Committee, Karen Iacovelli, had signed an anti-public school pledge. No big deal though, I guess. Stranger things have happened.

A little later, I came across an article about a bogus grass-roots group called “Missourians in Charge” that was funded by a mysterious, libertarian New Yorker named Howard Rich - a situation I thought sounded vaguely familiar. That “vague familiarity” turned out to be more than just a coincidence. I began to understand why a ‘grass roots’ group like South Carolinians for Responsible Government was so coy about revealing its funding ... despite Paul Simon's clear admonition that you don't need to be coy, Roy.

Then, earlier this summer, after some surmisin’ and triangulatin’ and whatnot, Gervais found that the official blogger of SCRG, the “Voice for School Choice,” was actually a New Jersey-bred libertarian named Chaim “Chuck” Karczag who had also signed the pledge against public schools.

Finally, we examined numerous South Carolina legislative candidates (and a couple actual legislators) whose campaigns were predominantly funded by the out-of-state voucher lobby. I even pulled out the old TI-85 calcumalator and figured out that voucher kingpin Howard Rich was the single biggest entity bankrolling SC political campaigns in 2006. By far. At this point, though, nothing really surprises me about this outfit.

So why does Gervais do it, anyway?

Well, I enjoy it. The poking around in the darkest corners of the internet, the anonymous irate comments, the stamping out of fraud and fabrication perpetrated on the good folks of South Carolina. What warm-blooded mammal wouldn’t get a rise out of such exhilarating stuff? (Answer: only the Spotted Cuscus of New Guinea.)

But another reason is that there is so much dang material out there. It’s hard to find a single facet of this operation that isn’t tainted with some sort of detestable behavior, whether it’s circumventing our state’s contribution limits, sending phony letters to the editor, or simply signing a blood oath against SC schools.

The conclusion I was headed toward was that there wasn’t a single “voice” for vouchers in the Palmetto State that wasn’t either (a) an ideological opponent of our schools; (b) funded from Howard Rich’s out-of-state voucher lobby; or (c) both.

So naturally, I was a little suspicious of the voucher group “Clergy for Educational Options,” which got some ink in the Sunday paper. CEO, created in 2005, purports to be a grass roots organization of black ministers and churches. It has a killer website. According to founder Rev. Richard L. Davis, the group’s membership is comprised of over 300 of our state’s churches.

That’s a lot of people, people.

But, seeing as how only one African-American lawmaker supports Howard Rich’s voucher plan, and that Democratic legislator's seat was bought and paid for with out-of-state money, I couldn’t help but ask the question… Is Clergy for Educational Options another prop-up group funded from out-of-state? Is it just another Rich-funded SCRG affiliate?

Or is this finally an independent, authentic, grass roots voice for voucher-izing the Palmetto State?

Gervais wonders, and you should too.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Candidate Tips for the Charleston Debate

Today the Democratic candidates for president descend upon the Citadel in Chucktown to participate in a debate sponsored by CNN, YouTube, and the SC Democratic Party. The event (7PM) will feature an unprecedented format where voters ask the questions directly by uploading digital video content to the internet site YouTube.

Barbecue & Politics welcomes the field of candidates to the Palmetto State. Courtesy of Gervais, here are the official…

Candidate tips for Monday’s Democratic debate at the Citadel:

If you want your debate responses to “go viral” on the internet, try dropping a Mentos® into a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke while you discuss comprehensive immigration reform.

You may encounter a few obstinate Citadel graduates who still hold a grudge about women attending the college. Don’t let these chauvinists ruin your opinion of the 3% who don’t feel that way.

While in Charleston, be sure to check out Civil War attractions such as the CSS Hunley, Fort Sumter, and State Senator Glenn McConnell.

Do not automatically assume the man in the pink seersucker suit is a gay rights activist. This is considered masculine attire in Charleston.

Remember, Charleston is no place to blast a president who suspends habeas corpus, unless you mean blast in the literal sense and the year is 1861.

It is crucial that you endear yourself to the YouTube audience. Consider adding the “Evolution of Dance” guy to your short list of possible running mates.

Dress appropriately. Although "Anderson Cooper 360ยบ" is probably named for its full-circle coverage of current events, it’s also not a bad temperature estimate for Charleston in July.

It’s fine to condemn inhumane treatment, like making people parade around the room in an “elephant walk” holding each other’s genitals. Just make sure people know you’re criticizing Abu Ghraib and not the time-honored freshman experience at the Citadel.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

“It’s not important where the money comes from”


Read today's State newspaper for an interesting article about Curtis Brantley, the only member of the Legislative Black Caucus who supports school vouchers.

In addition to the quote above (regarding his 84% out-of-state voucher funding) Brantley offered this gem: "Whether a school is integrated or segregated, if it is effective, why run somewhere else?"

Curtis Brantley, ladies and gentlemen.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chester needs our help sloganeering

As I'm sure you noticed during your recent perusal of the Chester News & Reporter, Chester County needs our help in a bad way.

The County Council is offering $100 for the best slogan or design for the county's new welcome sign. $100, kids. Submissions must be sent to the County Supervisor's Office by September 1st, so time is of the essence.

Pictured is an example of one of the submissions, from the News & Reporter website:

So far submissions include "Welcome to Chester County! Pride in the past...Faith in the future" and other slogans such as "Where imagination comes with historical values" and "Where we are growing to live and living to grow."

Those are cute and all, but I think the readers of Barbecue & Politics can do better. (You can even download the oval at the News & Reporter, if you really want to try for the $100.)




UPDATE(s): Never mind about the $100. I'm pretty sure Gervais has it in the bag with one of these submissions:


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Caption that Photo



As usual, the winner gets half a can of Coke courtesy of Gervais S. Bridges.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Belly’s Southern Pride - belly up to some good barbecue

This weekend, the Bridges Family decided to follow up on a tip regarding a barbecue joint out in the Town of Lexington. We loaded up the wagon and headed out to the home of the Wildcats, Lexington High School, where Gervais' Ma and Pa once matriculated. Caddy-cornered from LHS, across Augusta Highway, is Belly’s Southern Pride Bar-B-Q.

Belly’s is predominantly a carry-out place, but with a nice wooden picnic table right out front if you just can’t wait ‘till you get home. And there’s a good chance you won’t be able to. We sure couldn’t, so we stopped at a Corley Street Park near downtown Lexington and proceeded to chow down.

Belly’s offers up some pretty good pulled pork, and you get to choose from mustard-based, vinegar & pepper based, and tomato-based. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know Gervais likes his t-shirt stains yellow, so I ordered up the mustard-based barbecue sandwich, plus a couple sides. One bite and you’ll see why Belly’s is among the top barbecue restaurants in the state, according to the South Carolina Barbeque Association.

The hash and rice is allegedly the same recipe once used by the famous Oak Grove Barbecue, before that restaurant burned to the ground. But maybe that’s just Lexington Barbecue Lore. I didn’t ask. It was good hash, but the kind that’s easier on the mouth than the nose if you know what I’m saying.

Semi-relevant factoid: Disastrous fires in 1894 and 1916 on Main Street in Lexington resulted in the construction of brick buildings, many of which are standing today.

Anyway, the cole slaw at Belly’s is definitely different from that of other barbecue joints. It had tomatoes and banana peppers and bell peppers and cucumbers. Sounds like a mess, I know, but it was good, and still mixed well with the hash & rice in case you’re a mixer like me...

The kid’s plate (pictured) is affordable and could really feed a full-grown adult.

Belly’s also offers ribs, barbecue chicken, fries, potato salad and mac & cheese, and has an even more extensive catering menu. Gervais says, next time your belly’s achin’ for some down-home barbecue, try Belly’s Southern Pride -- it’s worth the short ride.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Voucher Week, pt. V: The One-Man Voucher Lobby

So far this week, we’ve seen how a handful of libertarians from around the country have bankrolled candidates for our legislature. But just candidates. That’s an important word because, of the tens of thousands of dollars poured into the Palmetto State in support of the voucher agenda, not one red cent has had any influence on our legislature. Right?

Not exactly.

Turns out, assembling a State House that will pass a voucher bill happens just a few seats at a time.

There’s Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who got 49% of his campaign funds in 2006 from out-of-state, including $18,000 from the voucher enthusiasts. Mulvaney’s out-of-state money exceeded his November opponent’s total contributions, and Mulvaney won a seat in our State House by 209 votes (51% to 49%).

There’s Rep. Kit Spires, who got 52% of his campaign funds in 2006 from these guys. Spires’ out-of-state voucher money also exceeded his GOP primary opponent’s total contributions, and Spires won that race by 267 votes.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s Rep. Curtis Brantley, who puts the other two to shame. Brantley got nearly 84% of his campaign funds in 2006 from the out-of-state voucher lobby, and captured a seat in the June Primary by only 170 votes.

Could they have done it without New York libertarian Howard Rich, and the grotesque amount of funding that comes with supporting his vouchers? Would they be legislators if not for this out of state mega-donor who scoffs at SC’s $1000 contribution limit? I don’t know for sure, but I think not.

Because Howard Rich is indeed a “one-man voucher lobby.”

I’ll wrap up voucher week by exposing a fact that the voucher groups, with all their grass roots, Palmetto Tree masquerading, don’t want you to know. It’s a fact that’s buried in numerous campaign disclosures and hidden behind countless LLC’s, but it’s a fact all the same. And this is it:

New York voucher advocate Howard Rich is the single biggest contributor to political campaigns in South Carolina.

Let that sink in for a second. Does that sound right?

Here are the top contributing entities (excluding the candidates who self-financed) to SC political candidates in 2006, according to the National Institute for Money in State Politics:

1. SC Trucking Association: $111,750
2. SC Automobile Dealers Association: $89,741
3. SC Optometric Association: $83,550
4. Senate Republican Caucus: $83,211
5. Palmetto Leadership Council: $80,500
6. BellSouth: $72,900
7. Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina: $67,500
As you can see, Rich ain’t on the list. They’re all, as you would expect, South Carolina entities (or, in BellSouth’s case, southeastern entity) with a legitimate business interest in the Palmetto State.

But Rich’s name isn’t missing from the list because he’s stingy. Quite the contrary. It’s missing because the Institute didn’t go through the intense bother of adding up all the contributions from Rich’s myriad shell companies last year. Gervais, however, did:

Bradford Management of NY: $26,000
405 49 Associates: $23,500
Ashborough Investors: $19,000
Ashborough LLC: $1,000
123 LaSalle, Inc: $16,000
123 LaSalle Associates: $5,000
123 LaSalle Avenue: $1,000
Spinksville LLC: $15,000
Howard Rich/Spinksville LLC: $3,000
West 14 & 18 LLC: $12,500
14-18 West LLC: $1,000
Spooner LLC: $12,500
538-14 Realty LLC: $12,500
Silver & Silver Properties, LLC: $10,500
Bayrich LLC: $5,500
Howard Rich/Bayrich LLC: $1,000
Dayrich LLC: $1,000

Unless my calculator fails me, that’s a total of $166,000. Howard Rich is #1 by far - head and shoulders above any other contributor. In other words, no one is trying to exert as much influence on South Carolina’s government as Howard Rich.

Make of that what you will, folks. That’s it for Voucher Week.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Voucher Week, pt. IV: 10% Inspiration, 99% Out of State Fund-ation

I know what you’re thinking: “It can’t get any worse.”

First, an SCRG-backed candidate in House District 7 gets 87% of his funding from out-of-state. Then, an SCRG-backed candidate in House District 79 gets 56% of her funding from the same handful of folks. Then, just a couple months later, an SCRG-backed candidate in the same House District gets 96% of his funds from out-of-state…

I mean, even the most bogus of grass roots groups has to say “enough is enough” eventually, right?

I’ll give everyone a head’s up: if you want to suppose that it can’t get any worse than 96%, read no further. If you still want to imagine that these SC outfits are a homespun effort, not controlled from out-of-state, scroll no more. Hit “Ctrl-Alt-Del,” pour your Frappucino into your hard drive, throw your new iPhone in the nearest creek – whatever it takes not to read another word.

But for those of you who choose to remain waist deep in Voucher Week, let’s take a trip back in time… to just over a year ago, in "SC's Golden Corner": Oconee County. There, in the House District 1 GOP primary, SCRG-backed candidate Brad Cain is losing his race against a retired educator, Rep. Bill Whitmire, by about 600 votes. A sound margin, considering Cain was able to solicit $22,250 in this bid for the State House.

Of that $22,250, how much was from Sandlappers?

Not even enough to replace that iPhone. According to the National Institute for Money in State Politics, an unbelievable 99.2% ($22,000) was from out-of-state.

From whose wallets did these legislative campaign funds originate?

Howard Rich of NY
Ashborough Investors: $1,000
Spinksville LLC: $1,000
West 14 & 18 LLC: $1,000

Alex Cranberg of CO
Walnut Software, LLC: $1,000
Azimuth Energy, LLC: $1,000
Aspect Energy, LLC: $1,000

Other Voucher Enthusiasts
Eric Brooks (PA): $1,000
Donna Brooks (PA): $1,000
Jeff Yass (PA): $1,000
Joe Stilwell (NY): $1,000
Arthur Dantchik (PA): $1,000
Joseph Rich (NY): $1,000

And a few others. Just imagine if someone found this financial disclosure lying on the ground in, say, Omaha, Nebraska. Do you think they’d know what state it came from?

But as disconcerting as 99.2% is, it gets even worse.

Across the state, in House District 117 (Chas. and Berkeley Cos.) SCRG backed a legislative candidate named Rosalie “Roz” Mir. Ms. Mir raised a total of $13,021 in her bid for the seat of Republican Tom Dantzler in the same June GOP primary.

Who funded this campaign, in the lowcountry of South Carolina?

Howard Rich of NY
Ashborough Investors: $1,000
Spinksville LLC: $1,000
West 14 & 18 LLC: $1,000
538-14 Realty LLC: $1000

Other Voucher Enthusiasts

Eric Brooks (PA): $1,000
Jeff Yass (PA): $1,000
Joe Stilwell (NY): $1,000
Arthur Dantchik (PA): $1,000
Joseph Rich (NY): $1,000

And four other $1,000 checks from outside SC. It's getting kinda repetitive, isn't it? $13,000 of Mir’s $13,021 was from out-of-state, while $21 came from her own pocketbook.

That’s – let’s see, carry the two – 99.8% out-of-state funding. (Rep. Dantzler won the race, although several confused Russian cosmonauts turned out to vote for Mir.)

Now, if you grew up in the age of chicken-bog, pancake-breakfast, people-driven politics, this sort of thing might make you want to take a shower. I enthusiastically endorse this impulse. But when you do, please note that the Ivory Soap you’re using isn’t as pure (only 99.44%) as Ms. Mir’s out-of-state school voucher funding.

Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that all the candidates we’ve looked at this week, and the others we’ve passed over, are being bankrolled by the same guy: one-man voucher lobby Howard Rich -- and a dozen or so of his libertarian comrades around the country.

But then again, “one man voucher lobby” sounds like more hyperbole, the kind Gervais is known to use so recklessly. Perhaps I exaggerate the extent of Mr. Rich’s involvement in SC politics. Surely his financial contributions to candidates don’t rival that of actual, big-time lobbyists like Blue Cross Blue Shield or BellSouth, companies that have a considerable business interests in the Palmetto State.

Right?

Don’t bet your “Alliance for the Separation of School and State” membership card on it, my friend. Come back tomorrow, when Voucher Week concludes at the same place the South Carolina voucher campaign began… 73 Spring Street, NY, NY. (Go to Part Five)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Voucher Week, pt. III: Gunning for Bill Cotty

Okay, so a legislative candidate named Dan Harvell up in Anderson County was almost entirely (86%) funded from out-of-state voucher ideologues. But is 86% really that bad? After all, almost thirty actual South Carolinians, including the “SC” Club for Growth PAC, also contributed to the campaign.

I’m being tongue in cheek. Of course it’s bad. It’s a mockery of the system, and to the extent that many of the "maximum" allowed contributions came from the same individual, of our law. But it could be even worse.

To wit, check out last year’s race(s) for House District 79 in Kershaw and Richland Counties (mentioned by Earl in yesterday's comments). As you may recall, Republican Bill Cotty faced competition in the GOP primary. His opponent was Sheri Few, who had the backing of voucher group SCRG. I don’t have Few’s disclosures, but according to the National Institute for Money in State Politics, over 56% of her contributions were from out-of-state.

Whose deep, lint-filled pockets did this dirty voucher cash come from? Here’s the breakdown:

Howard Rich of NY
123 LaSalle Associates: $1,000
123 LaSalle Inc.: $1,000
Bayrich LLC: $1,000
Dayrich LLC: $1,000
Ashborough Investors: $1,000
Spinksville LLC: $1,000
Spooner LLC: $1000
405 49 Associates: $1000
Bradford Management of NY: $1,000
Silver & Silver Properties LLC: $1,000
West 14 & 18 LLC: $1,000
538-14 Realty, LLC: $1,000

Alex Cranberg of CO
Long Canyon, LLC: $1,000
Walnut Software, LLC: $1,000
Azimuth Energy, LLC: $1,000
Aspect Energy, LLC: $1,000

Other Voucher Enthusiasts
Eric Brooks (PA): $1,000
Donna Brooks (PA): $1,000
Paul Farago (OR): $1,000
Jeff Yass (PA): $1,000
Kermit Waters (NV): $1,000
Joe Stilwell (NY): $1,000
Arthur Dantchik (PA): $1,000
Joseph Rich (NY): $1,000

If all those names sound familiar, it’s pretty much the same handful of out-of-staters who bankrolled 86% of Dan Harvell’s campaign in House District 7. (Few also got $1000 checks from Joshua Gross’s "SC Club for Growth" and from Chad Walldorf, chair of "Reform SC").

But that’s not the real story. Hell, 44% funding from in-state is downright “grass roots” as far as these voucher groups go. And besides, Cotty dispensed with Ms. Few by almost 300 votes, so no big deal.

The general election is when the real fun began in District 79.

SCRG again targeted Cotty, who evidently supports public schools, for defeat in November. The group petitioned a third-party candidate onto the ballot to try to siphon away enough votes to give the election to Democrat challenger Anton Gunn.

Sleazy? Yes. Despicable? Sure. Funded almost entirely from out-of-state? You bet.

Petition candidate Michael Letts’ disclosure, seen here, is nothing short of a voucher lobby masterpiece.

Of the $21,850 reported on this filing, $850 was from within South Carolina. The other 96%? Cash from the out-of-state voucher lobby:

Howard Rich of NY
Howard Rich: $1000
123 LaSalle Associates: $1,000
Ashborough Investors: $1,000
Spinksville LLC: $1,000
405 49 Associates: $1000
Bradford Management of NY: $1,000
Silver & Silver Properties LLC: $1,000
West 14 & 18 LLC: $1,000

Other Voucher Enthusiasts
Eric Brooks (PA): $1,000
Donna Brooks (PA): $1,000
Paul Farago (OR): $1,000
Jeff Yass (PA): $1,000
Joe Stilwell (NY): $1,000
Arthur Dantchik (PA): $1,000

And a couple others. Same handful of out-of-state contributors, same House district, different candidate.

But votes in District 79 don’t come as cheap as some folks think: Letts earned a thousand fewer votes than he did petition signatures, and Cotty edged out his Democratic opposition just under 300 votes.

96% of an SC legislative campaign funded by the out-of-state voucher lobby... For a little perspective, there is more actual fruit juice in a box of Hi-C fruit drink than there was actual SC funding for Mr. Letts.

Can it possibly get any worse than that?

Come back tomorrow and find out. And since Gervais is on his soap box, do me a favor and check out your own "soap box." We're going to see if the "South Carolina" voucher lobby can field a candidate whose out-of-state funding is purer than the coveted yardstick of purity: Ivory Soap. (Go to Part Four)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Voucher Week, pt. II: Undue Out-of-State Influence

So what does Gervais mean when he says that South Carolinians for Responsible Government's legislative candidates are funded “almost entirely” by the “out-of-state” voucher lobby? Is it just rhetoric? A little embellishment? Or is it fact?

I’ll let you decide.

A good place to start would be last year’s GOP primary in House District 7, in Abbeville & Anderson Counties. In that contest, now-Representative Mike Gambrell defeated a SCRG-backed candidate named Dan Harvell by about 200 votes.

Who is Dan Harvell? I have no idea, other than almost a legislator. But a quick look at Mr. Harvell’s campaign disclosure shows that something was amiss over in House District 7 last year. From April to July, a span which included the June primary, Mr. Harvell raked in $29,025 in campaign contributions.

Of that $29,025, how much was from out-of-state supporters of the Put Parents in Charge voucher bill?

$25,000. Out of $29,025. That’s 86%. Take a gander at the disclosures if you don’t believe it:

Four maximum contributions from the 73 Spring Street, NY, NY address of millionaire libertarian Howard Rich:

Howard Rich: $1,000
Ashborough Investors: $1,000
Spooner LLC: $1000
West 14 & 18 LLC: $1,000

Four more maximum contributions from a Denver, Colorado address:

Alex Cranberg $1000
Long Canyon, LLC: $1,000
Azimuth Energy, LLC: $1,000
Aspect Energy, LLC: $1,000

And $1000 checks from the following voucher enthusiasts, among others:

Eric Brooks of Pennsylvania
Donna Brooks of Pennsylvania
Paul Farago of Oregon
Janine Yass of Pennsylvania
Kermit Waters of Nevada
Joe Stilwell of New York
Arthur Dantchik of Pennsylvania
Joseph Rich of New York

Take note of these names - chances are you'll see them again soon.

In all, Harvell for House cashed twenty-five $1000 checks from out-of-state - or about $20 for each voter who ultimately pulled the lever for Mr. Harvell.

Where were SCRG’s alleged 200,000 grass roots supporters during this influx of out-of-state cash? MIA? AWOL? Some other military acronym?

I don’t know. But this is what Gervais means when he says a candidate is funded almost entirely from the out-of-state voucher lobby. 86%. I’d be worried if these folks provided even a third of a candidate’s funding, but 86% is just ridiculous.

Bogus grass-roots groups, duplicitous donations, and undue out-of-state influence. Folks, this ain't how our political system is supposed to operate.

But if you think 86% is bad, well - to quote Bob Dylan - "Now ain't the time for your tears." It gets worse.

Find out how much worse tomorrow, when Shark - er, Voucher - Week continues. (Go to Part Three)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Voucher Week at Barbecue & Politics

The Discovery Channel has Shark Week. The Grand Strand has Bike Week. And the Jewish faith has Hanukkah. All these roughly week-long events are action-packed, informative, and likely to make you gain 5-10 pounds.

Here at Barbecue & Politics, we have something we like to call "Voucher Week," and it starts today.

If you're a regular, you may sometimes wonder what my major beef is with the out-of-state voucher lobby. You may think, “Man, Gervais sure is rough on the out-of-state voucher lobby. He should be more nicer.” (You should use better grammar, even in your head.)

Or you may ask yourself, “Why does Gervais always say ‘out-of-state’ when he talks about the out-of-state voucher lobby? Gervais is the greatest.”

You may even lie awake at night and query, “Why does Gervais hate non-South Carolinians such as the people behind the out-of-state voucher lobby? And why is he peering in my window?”

The answer to all these questions is “yes,” even though none of them was even a yes/no question.

But my unadulterated disdain for non-Sandlappers is more of a “minor personality flaw” than it is my reason for exposing the sham groups trying to unload vouchers on the Palmetto State.

I’ll admit that the anti-public school blood oaths give me the heebie-jeebies something fierce. However, even without the "no more government involvement in education" mantra, or the "public education is welfare" nonsense, I’d still be all over these guys.

Why? Because even worse than the damage these outsiders would gladly do to SC schools is the damage they are already doing to the integrity of our political system.

Of course, there’s the famously unsuccessful efforts to obscure the origin of the funding for the groups themselves. But that’s become kinda funny by now. What we'll look at this week is another aspect of the voucher lobby’s plot: the bankrolling of hand-picked legislative candidates almost entirely from out-of-state ideologues.

I know, I know... “almost entirely” sounds like overblown rhetoric, right? How much am I really talking about here? A “little nudge?” A “shot in the arm?” 30%? 40%? 50%?

I mean, these voucher groups use the palmetto tree in their logos, so their handpicked candidates probably have gobs of SC support, perhaps supplemented by a smidgen of cash from afar. Right?

Come back tomorrow (and all week) to find out. And bring a box of tissues if you're a sucker for good old-fashioned, people-driven democracy. We’ll look at some actual financial disclosures from actual candidates during SC's last election cycle, to see what it looks like when a contender for a seat in our State House is almost entirely funded by the out-of-state voucher lobby.

Crowd the kids around the computer and put some popcorn in the microwave. Voucher Week is underway! (Go to Part Two)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Tommy Moore resigns



The Aiken Standard apparently has the exclusive story.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Shealy's Bar-B-Que: peachy keen

The Bridges family officially "got its Shealy's on" for the Fourth of July holiday. Hannah Jane, Petunia, Gervais Jr. (with ten teeth in his whole head) and yours truly filled up the tank Wednesday morning and headed west to the bustling metropolis of Gilbert for the annual Lexington County Peach Festival.

Fresh peaches, southern gospel music, peach slushees & ice cream, and good patriotic folks were the order of the day. Politics was also in the air - from sheriff candidates and the Lexington GOP tent to the Sam Brownback parade float and Obama stickers.

Oh, and there was Shealy's barbecue. Shealy's intensely flavorful, positively mouthwatering, "hot town, summer in the city" barbecue.

Gervais says, nobody can hold a Roman candle to Shealy's. It's like an Independence Day parade for your tastebuds.

Of course, opinions will differ, and spirited debate on the matter is the stuff democracy is made of. But whoever happens to serve up your favorite 'cue, one thing is undebatable: the Fourth is a great day to live in this little corner of the USA we call the Palmetto State. Can I get an "Amen" to that?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Happy Fourth from Barbecue & Politics

Chavis Barbecue in Oak Grove- all decked out in patriotic colors and open from 11:00 AM to 8:30 PM on Independence Day.

Wherever you and yours spend the holiday, have a good one and enjoy the blessings of liberty!

Gervais S. Bridges
Barbecue & Politics

Other 'cue joints open on the 4th:

Little Pigs - 9AM carryout, 11AM dine-in "until they decide to close"

Maurice's - normal business hours

Hudson's Smokehouse - 9AM "until we run out of food"

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mitt Romney: cut out for the presidency?

Sorry, no high-brow commentary here. Just wanted to kick off the first Quarterly Barbecue & Politics Caption that Photo Contest.

The winner, as usual, gets half a can of Coke courtesy of Gervais.