Inside Sanford’s Competitive Grant “Scandal” November 15, 2007Posted by fitsnews in SC Politics.
GOVERNORS’ ASSOCIATION DEBATE REVIVES LONGSTANDING PALMETTO POLITICAL SOAP OPERA
FITSNews – November 15, 2007 – Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of Palmetto politicos’ lives. Seriously, if you thought daytime network TV was dripping with shallow sappiness and petty personal intrigues, Hollywood’s B-listers got nothing on South Carolina’s elected officials and political chattering class. For the past five years, taxpayers have basically funded a redneck version of Days of Our Lives, where itching inferiority complexes, unholy alliances, illicit affairs and a universally-addictive lust for power melt into a teeming cauldron of waste, corruption, inefficiency and non-competitiveness.
We’ve chronicled much of the vicious, vacuous cycle right here on FITSNews, and for our efforts we’ve become about as popular with the “powers that be” here in Columbia, S.C. as the early Nineties anti-narco reporters in Colombia, S.A. became with El Doctor Pablo Escobar himself. Death threats, lawsuit threats, you name ’em, we’ve gotten ’em. Which is one reason we have to remind people from time to time that our lawyers are very, very, very good, and our home office is very, very, very well-protected. Just call it our own little Hacienda Los Nápoles, people.
Anyway, the latest chapter in the ongoing drama that is South Carolina’s backwoods banana republic unfolded this week between Gov. Mark Sanford and State Senator Jake Knotts, who continue to find themselves at opposite ends of the political spectrum when it comes to state government … and apparently buffet tables as well.
In a blistering article penned by Knotts’ consultant Rod Shealy, Sr. in the Lake Murray News (which Shealy owns), Knotts claims to have uncovered a gubernatorial conspiracy to discredit him centering around former Sanford Communications Director Chris Drummond, who has been widely-suspected in the past of leaking sensitive information about the governor’s enemies to members of the media.
According to Shealy’s story, “the 2008 campaign attacks had already secretly begun, and Drummond was being paid to discredit the names on Sanford’s (legislative) ‘hit list.'”
As evidence of this arrangement, Knotts uncovered $27,000 in payments made to Drummond out of funds raised for the 2006 National Governor’s Association Conference, which was held last year in Charleston, S.C.
That discovery, in turn, led to the revelation that of the $1.2 million used to pay for the conference, $150,000 came from South Carolina taxpayers via the controversial S.C. Competitive Grants program, which FITSNews exposed earlier this year as little more than a secret legislative slush fund. The grant was the first to be authorized by the program, and was awarded prior to the leveling of allegations that powerful State Sen. Hugh Leatherman was using the fund to influence his colleagues’ votes.
Earlier this year, sources tell FITSNews that Knotts confronted Drummond in person and asked him whether or not he was receiving money from any group affiliated with the governor, including the NGA conference organization, which was managed by current Sanford staffer Marisa Crawford. Drummond denied receiving any money from Sanford-related entities, and blamed our own Sic Willie for orchestrating the attacks against Knotts and other legislators in the mainstream media.
At this point, Knotts reportedly presented Drummond with copies of the NGA checks.
Having researched the relevant documents, we can say that Knotts’ case against Sanford concerning the competitive grant awarded to the NGA is fairly flimsy. As far as we can tell, the funding request is the only one in the history of the program to follow proper request protocol, to itemize the intended uses for the grant and to return, albeit belatedly, a surplus of funds back to the taxpayers.
Additionally, the NGA conference is estimated to have had a $4.3 million economic impact on the State of South Carolina according to College of Charleston economists, which means the $50,000 the taxpayers ultimately ended up investing in the conference was obviously money well spent.
Bottom line, the event was the poster child for what the competitive grants program should be, but isn’t.
Having said that, Ms. Crawford certainly should have recognized that any surplus funds from the conference ought to be returned immediately to the taxpayers instead of sent to a pro-Sanford lobbying group, which would have saved her boss a short-term headache in the mainstream press.
The case against Drummond could potentially be much stronger, however, depending on the evidence Knotts has collected and promised to share with legislative investigators.
Our research has confirmed that Drummond – a master of “veiling” his leaks – has repeatedly sought to shift the onus for some of his undercover dealings onto other sources. In three separate cases, sources tell FITSNews that information leaked by Drummond was pinned on innocent parties in an effort to shield him from retaliation.
The ultimate impact of all this cat-and-mouse spy-gaming is unclear, although it appears that the primary pro-Sanford vehicle for the 2008 elections, Reform SC, is not connected to any of the shady dealings, despite Shealy’s article repeatedly sprinkling the organization’s name in an effort to imply “guilt by association.”
Stay tuned to FITSNews for more on this ongoing soap opera …