Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween guest column

Rich’s one-man costume party
Guest Columnist

Have you ever seen a one-man costume party?

If not, take a close look at the most recent campaign finance disclosures. When you do, you’ll see that the millionaire who finances the South Carolina voucher lobby is playing dress-up for Halloween.

New York libertarian Howard Rich is busy using an arsenal of disguises to bankroll private school tax-credit supporters here in the Palmetto State.

It works like this: Rich makes the maximum legal contribution of $3,500 to a pro-voucher candidate, under the name of “Bradford Management.” Then he makes another contribution, to the same candidate, as “Spinksville LLC.” And then he makes another, as “Ashborough Investors.” Then another, as “405 49 Associates” — you get the idea.

And there are more: Spooner LLC. Bayrich LLC. Dayrich LLC. 538-14 Realty LLC. West 14 & 18 LLC. 123 LaSalle Associates. Just to name a few.

Some of these shell companies list Howard Rich’s Big Apple apartment as their primary address. Others purport to be located at an alternate address, but have a “principal” address at his New York residence.

One point of all this masquerading is to bypass our state campaign contribution limit. Rich is the kid who solicits candy at your doorstep, changes his mask and knocks again. And again and again and again. Only Rich isn’t begging for sweets, he’s giving out wads of out-of-state voucher cash.

Superintendent of education candidate Karen Floyd’s disclosures, available online at the State Ethics Commission Web site, are an out-and-out Howard Rich costume ball. The Manhattan developer contributed $13,000 to Floyd during the past three months, and more than $55,000 so far this year.

It’s the same trick Rich used to funnel money to several State House candidates in the June primary. It’s the same tired ploy he has used to furnish Mark Sanford with more than $30,000 so far this campaign.

Playing dress-up is nothing new to Howard Rich. His favorite pastime seems to be paying for organizations around the country and disguising them as grass-roots efforts.

There’s “Oklahomans for Good Government.” It’s a convincing-enough name, until you see who funded the group’s million-dollar pet initiative. More than $600,000 came from Rich; actual Oklahomans contributed less than 1 percent to the cause.

Then there’s Missourians in Charge. This Kansas City group masquerades as “grass-roots,” but is also funded almost entirely by Rich. Rich has plowed more than $2.3 million into the group’s bank account; actual Missourians furnished only $150.

And there’s Montanans in Action, an outfit in Big Sky Country, also financed by Rich.

In all three states, courts have removed Howard Rich’s initiatives from the November ballot for reasons ranging from the use of illegal, out-of-state petitioners to “pervasive fraud.”

Which brings us to the Palmetto State. Here, the major lobbying group for Gov. Sanford’s twice-failed voucher bill “Put Parents in Charge” gets squeamish when asked to show its funding. “South Carolinians for Responsible Government,” as the group calls itself, would rather sue the state than tell us whether it is just another deceptively named Howard Rich subsidiary. Like those other groups, SCRG wants people to think it is “grass-roots.” But it’s easy enough to see where SCRG is really rooted.

Howard Rich chairs the “Parents in Charge Foundation,” which calls itself a “key participant” in the S.C. voucher effort. SCRG’s first executive director was a former “field representative” of Howard Rich’s “U.S. Term Limits.”

Rich’s masquerading goes beyond playing sugar daddy to candidates and state puppet groups. His assortment of national funds is as impressive as his list of shell companies. US Term Limits. Parents in Charge. Fund for Democracy. Club for Growth State Action. Americans for Limited Government. Legislative Education Action Drive.

The point is, it’s easy to get tangled in this spider web of out-of-state cash. Figuring out which fund Howard Rich uses to float which puppet group can be mind-numbing. If the groups hide their funding, it can be nearly impossible.

That’s no accident. Besides skirting contribution limits, there’s a more fundamental purpose behind this shell game.

That purpose is to hide the fact that Rich’s initiatives are fueled by an ideology that loathes government, abhors public schools and despises the state laws that stand in its way. It’s essentially Halloween in reverse — the benign masks are there to hide the extremist ideology that lies beneath.

Howard Rich’s cash is the lifeblood of our state’s voucher lobby, and there’s plenty of money available for those who will cater to his cause.

Mr. Shealy resides in Cayce with his wife and children.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

South Carolina State Fair

Our son was too young (and sniffly) to enjoy he fair this year, but his Sissy got a double dose of fun!