Mogul an unhealthy influence in state politics
New York real estate mogul Howard Rich is back in the news proclaiming his renewed crusade for private school vouchers in South Carolina. That’s good news for the money-hungry State House politicians who take his checks and bad news for the children of our state and politics in general.
Rich has proven to be a master of the “dark arts” of political manipulation in South Carolina, and he’s a prime example of what’s wrong with our broken government and corrupt system of politics as usual.
So, who is this Howard Rich? For the record, Rich is an extremely wealthy guy whose hobby seems to be far-right politics in general, and trying to get private school vouchers imposed in South Carolina in particular. Just Google “Howard Rich South Carolina” and find out all the sordid details.
By most accounts, Rich first came to our state at the invitation of Mark Sanford. While a Congressman, Sanford carried a lot of water for the far-right libertarian crowd that is fanatical about low taxes on high incomes and vouchers for private schools (i.e., the Sanford agenda as Governor). Others in this informal group such as the Koch brothers, Foster Freese and assorted other millionaires and billionaires are willing to spend whatever it takes to push their radical agenda both nationally and in individual states where they can create a beachhead.
This is just what they have done in South Carolina. They have set up and funded numerous “independent” groups – some secret, some public – that all have the same basic agenda. While one group does political research, another funds candidates; while one does so-called “independent expenditures,” another funds the state Republican Party – and on and on it goes. You get the idea.
One of these groups, The SC Club for Growth, is largely responsible for Nikki Haley’s being governor, in that at just the right moment in the 2010 Republican primary campaign, they funded what was later found to be an illegal independent expenditure television campaign to the tune of $400,000 – which just happened to coincide with Haley’s high-profile endorsement by Sarah Palin. This gave Haley the boost she needed to ignite her campaign and, as they say, the rest is history.
I’m sure it’s also just a coincidence that Gov. Haley appointed the Club of Growth President and Bar-B-Q baron Chad Waldorf to be Chairman of the state Board of Economic Advisors. This was the highest position in state government where Haley could appoint someone without state Senate confirmation – thus avoiding questions about Waldorf’s qualifications for a post that has traditionally been filled by a legitimate economist with a PhD.
Rich has numerous other nefarious tactics. Often he dumps large amounts of money into his favored campaigns at the very end, during the so called “blackout period” when it is very difficult to find out how much has been received by candidates. Another tactic is to simply find someone he likes and fund virtually the whole campaign; there have been examples where 60 to 75% of a candidate’s money has come from Rich.
And it’s not just about funding Republicans against Democrats; he spends lots of cash finding extreme candidates to challenge mainstream Republicans. This election, he spent $45,000 going after Republican Sen. Larry Martin and Wes Hayes.
No one really knows exactly how much Rich has spent on trying to buy political influence in South Carolina. He gives lots of money to many different organizations and he has a wide network of cronies who also give massive amounts.
In the last election, the official reported number from Rich’s network was $153,000 to 19 candidates (18 were Republican), with total contributions to individual candidates ranging from $1,000 to $25,000. Since 2008, Rich’s affiliated groups also have given at least $341,000 in campaign contributions alone. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Because many Rich-supported organizations are not required by law to report donations and South Carolina’s campaign and ethics reporting laws are so weak, that total number of dollars spent by Rich and his cronies is unknown – most certainly several million dollars and perhaps ten times this amount.
In a recent letter to state Sen. Kevin Bryant. Rich promised to “redouble” his attack on public education in South Carolina and promised eventual victory for private school vouchers when he said, “One way or the other choice [private school vouchers] is coming. It is only a matter of resources, planning and patience – and I can assure you we are blessed with an abundance of all three.”
So what of Howard Rich and voucher politics in South Carolina? We should expect more of the same – with greater intensity and even more brutality. And what of the public schools our state’s parents and children rely on? Expect further and harsher attacks.
Welcome to Republican / Howard Rich “dark arts” politics – South Carolina style.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and serves as President of the SC New Democrats, an independent group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.