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Sanford rips Hodges on campaign finance

Greenville News Online, Posted Monday, November 19, 2001

Prospective GOP challenger Mark Sanford stopped short Monday of calling Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges a crook, but said the possibility exists because of unreported political donations.

"I'm not saying that" Hodges is a crook, the former Lowcountry congressman said, "but the specter is out there that he might be." He cited "the uncomfortable convergence" of campaign contributions to Hodges, the Democratic Party and the governor's pro-lottery organization from state contract bidders and video poker and lottery interests since 1998.

Cortney Owings, a Hodges spokeswoman, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Dick Harpootlian, state Democratic Party chairman, said Sanford's pitch was part of a pattern of hypocrisy dating to his 1994 campaign for Congress when he allowed the expenditure of $63,681 in soft money on his behalf by the GOP.

"It was good money when he was running, now all of a sudden he's gotten religion," Harpootlian said.

Sanford held a series of press conferences Monday, beginning in Greenville, calling on Hodges to voluntarily adopt soft money disclosure requirements for political parties and push for the statutory reforms recommended by a Hodges-appointed task force. He put the requests in writing in a letter to Hodges.

Sanford said that soft money donations to political parties that are unregulated, unlimited and are beyond reporting requirements are "an evil that seems to exist here in South Carolina.

"I hope that you will now perform your duty as South Carolina's leader by enlightening its people," Sanford said in the letter.

Some members of the bipartisan task force have criticized Hodges for sitting on their recommendations for greater openness since the report was delivered to him last April. Hodges has said there is adequate time to deal with the findings which would require legislative action early in 2002 to cover the final portions of the coming campaign.

Sanford is one of seven Republicans seeking the 2002 GOP gubernatorial nomination. He is the leading Republican fund-raiser so far, with $1.33 million. That's $2.4 million less than Hodges has taken in.

Noting that Hodges vetoed campaign reform legislation a year ago, then appointed the study commission, Sanford said the governor has engaged in a "consistent stalling game" to delay increased disclosure until after the 2002 elections or at least, too late to be a factor.

"It has one of two explanations: Either, seemingly, South Carolina is for sale to the highest bidder or the Governor's Office is going around to different businesses, that have business or want to do business with South Carolina and shaking them down for campaign contributions," Sanford said.

"If they gave to a political campaign and they gave to the lottery (campaign), wouldn't it be logical that they'd give an undisclosed and unreported amount in soft money contributions (that) none of us would know (about)."

He asked Hodges to open the Democratic Party's books, and the state GOP to open its books, too, as it did in unsuccessfully challenging the Democrats prior to the 1998 statewide election. Hodges defeated incumbent Republican David Beasley in part in a flood of money from video poker interests.

"That's always been our policy, if the Democrats will, too" said Henry McMaster, state GOP chairman. "One time, we made it public and the Democrats laughed at us."

Dan Hoover covers politics and can be reached at 298-4883.