I’ve mentioned the campaign funding of Rep. Curtis Brantley a few times now on this blog. Rep. Brantley, as you recall, got 84% of his 2006 funding from a roster of out-of-state voucher supporters, edging out his opponent by fewer than 200 votes.
As you know by now, I find this brand of politics to be nothing short of appalling. It’s an outright purchase of a legislative seat by an out-of-state interest. It’s a perversion of our political system, and it’s happened in several districts around the state, with even more money (although never at such a high percentage).
It’s part of an overarching agenda to pack the South Carolina legislature with enough votes to pass anti-public education ideologue Howard Rich’s scheme known as Put Parents in Charge.
And it’s actually worse than it seems, at least in the case of Rep. Curtis Brantley.
When I revisited Rep. Brantley’s figures recently, something still didn’t seem right about them. It wasn’t the out-of-state funding this time, though. This time, it was the in-state funding.
Brantley received only $3,410 in funding from inside the
For those of you who haven’t been following these new voucher subgroups, Thomas Simuel is the president of the SC Center from Grassroots (SCCG), the organization that shares an office with South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG) and received about a half-million dollars in mysterious funding in 2005. Thomas Simuel took the reins of SCCG from a guy named Stephen Gilchrist, whose wife is named Tammie.
Thomas Simuel may be neck-deep in pushing the SCRG voucher plan, and he wears a nice enough suit, but to me, he didn’t seem like the type of person who would write a personal check for $1,000. At least not to fund a State House candidate who wasn’t even in his district. Neither did Tammie Gilchrist, a public school teacher.
Sensing something was awry, Gervais decided to call Mr. Simuel. After about a dozen calls (one of which was inadvertently answered by the SCRG secretary instead of the SCCG secretary) I finally got in touch with him.
I started by asking Simuel where the $489,000 in SCCG funding came from. He said he wasn’t president of SCCG at the time, so he had no idea. Regarding Howard Rich, he said, “I couldn’t tell you who Howard Rich is … I’ve only heard his name in the papers.”
Mr. Simuel explained that he’s been doing “strictly (c)(3) work” that isn’t very political. This, of course, is shorthand for 501(c)(3), the IRS designation for non-profit organizations.
So I asked a natural follow-up: “Have you ever contributed to a political candidate?”
“Never more than a hundred dollars or so,” he said. Hmmm.
“Do you know who Rep. Curtis Brantley is?” I asked.
Mr. Simuel said he didn’t want to have any part of the interview if I was going to attack Rep. Brantley, someone he considered to be an honorable man. I assured him that I have no opinion of Rep. Brantley as a person or a representative.
Then I asked the question I wanted to ask all along: “Did you contribute to Curtis Brantley in 2006?”
“No,” Simuel said confidently.
So I dropped the bomb. I asked Simuel if he was aware that his name was listed among the $1,000 contributors to Brantley’s 2006 campaign. Suddenly, and awkwardly, he changed his story.
“Like I said, I probably gave Curtis some money.”
“Hold on now,” I replied. “That is not what you said. You said you didn’t give him any money. You said you never gave more than a hundred dollars or so to anybody.”
“Like I said, I probably gave him some money,” he repeated.
“Wait a second, I heard what you said. You specifically said you didn’t give Curtis Brantley any money and you said –“
Mr. Simuel had hung up.
I had caught Mr. Simuel doing something the voucher lobby rarely does regarding their funding: telling the truth -- that he didn’t contribute $1,000 to Curtis Brantley in 2006. And I bet, if I asked any other $1000 contributor on the list of Brantley funders, they couldn’t point to a stub in their personal checkbook either.
Candidates who are willing to vouch for Howard Rich’s Put Parents in Charge plan don’t get a measly $1,000 at a time. That kind of chump-change is for suckers who follow SC ethics laws, like the handful of former lawmakers who didn’t make the cut in this year’s edition of the legislative manual.
Instead, what most likely happens is this: First, SCRG/SCCG funnels a voucher candidate $10,000, ten times the legal limit, from a slush fund of out-of-state money. Then, SCRG/SCCG consults a list of names (generally out-of-state folk and Howard Rich-controlled LLC’s) and magically turns that $10,000 into ten "separate" contributions. Repeat until elected. That's how an outsider special interest buys a seat in the SC Legislature, to the tune of
84% make that 94% out-of-state funding.
And occasionally in this whole process, some of these contributions are attributed to people like Thomas Simuel.
People who gave away $1,000, without even knowing it.