S.C. Senate District 42 hopeful Marlon Kimpson announced he had received an endorsement from State Rep. Wendell Gilliard on July 1, the same day that Gilliard's political consulting firm received a $5,000 payment from Kimpson's campaign, according to documents filed with the State Ethics Commission. South Carolina law does not prohibit elected officials from running political consulting businesses while in office.
WGG Consulting LLC, which received $6,000 in total from the Kimpson campaign through July 10, lists Gilliard as its registered agent with the S.C. Secretary of State's office. According to Kimpson's ethics filings, the $6,000 went to pay for "field work, door knocking, sign placement," and "grassroots organizing."
Maurice Washington, Kimpson's opponent in the upcoming Aug. 27 Democratic runoff, isn't buying those explanations. "I'm disappointed that Rep. Gilliard held a press conference endorsing Mr. Kimpson from his official capacity as a state representative as though he was doing it based on Mr. Kimpson's credentials, rather than he was doing it because he was being paid to do so. I thought that was disingenuous and misleading."
Washington, whom former District 42 Sen. Robert Ford has described as "a faithful and dedicated Republican since 1984," says Gilliard initially approached him about paying for an endorsement. "I was approached by Rep. Gilliard for pay, and I refused to pay him for his endorsement or his support," Washington says. "It was a combination of direct communication between the two of us and another individual who was basically asked to negotiate the deal." According to Washington, Gilliard "told me I needed to negotiate the deal with him with someone else" and sent over a local politico to work as an intermediary. But after "a week of back and forth," Washington says he sent word that he was not interested in hiring Gilliard.
Gilliard did not respond to requests for comment. Kimpson's campaign manager, Lachlan McIntosh, says the endorsement has "nothing to do" with the consulting fees. "I think Wendell's integrity isn't questioned," McIntosh says. "He took a while to figure out who he wanted to support, and we are honored that he decided to support us."
Kimpson says he and Gilliard have a working relationship that goes back to the John Edwards campaign. He says the timing of the consulting payment and the endorsement is "a coincidence."
"It's only a conflict of interest if you don't disclose it. I've complied with the law," Kimpson says.
Kimpson has racked up a bevy of high-profile Democratic endorsements, including state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, state Rep. Seth Whipper, United Steelworkers District 9, numerous local church leaders, and former state AFL-CIO President Kenneth Riley. Kimpson has also blown Washington out of the water in the fundraising race. As of the latest reporting deadline before the Aug. 13 primary, Kimpson reported spending just over $62,500 in the election cycle, including $9,714.56 of his own money. Meanwhile, Washington reported spending about $18,000 — of which $7,400 came from his personal money and $12,000 came from a loan.
Kimpson's expenditures have included:
"Campaigns cost money," Kimpson says. "As you know, I put my own money into the race, but in addition to that, people are gravitating to our message. And so we are continuing to raise money because we have to get our message out, and our message is resonating, as reflected in the vote totals last Tuesday." In the Aug. 13 special Democratic primary election, which featured six candidates, Kimpson captured 44 percent of the vote, and Washington took second place with 22 percent. Since no candidate won a simple majority, state law requires a runoff between the first- and second-place finishers.
Actually, this primary election's spending total was lower than in previous ones involving then-incumbent Robert Ford. For a point of comparison, the 2008 District 42 Democratic primary between Ford and attorney Dwayne Green cost a good deal more. As of the final reporting deadline before that primary, Green reported spending more than $70,000 in the election cycle, and Ford reported spending more than $94,000.
Former Charleston City Councilman Kwadjo Campbell, who says he and his consulting company received about $7,300 from the Kimpson campaign, says he had "an army" of 10 to 13 workers going out in the district every day with a script saying that "the clear-cut Democrat in this race is Marlon Kimpson." He says that Gilliard, like him, spent much of his consulting fees on paying field workers.
"People always cry when they're not the ones raising the money," Campbell says. "If [other candidates] had received that support, they would not be complaining, would not be crying, and they would spend it in the same ways."
Kimpson and Washington have met for a debate only once, in a forum hosted by the S.C. Democratic Party at Trident Technical College. Last Friday, a candidates' forum held at North Charleston City Hall included Washington, Republican nominee Billy Shuman, and Libertarian nominee Alex Thornton, but an event organizer said Kimpson was excluded because he missed the deadline to sign up.
Politically, Kimpson says he opposes school vouchers and "any plan to devote public money to private schools." He also says he wants to "fight for Medicaid expansion," and he plans to institute a program wherein technical college instructors would work with prominent local employers like Boeing to create specialized 12-month curricula so that local workers are more employable.
Kimpson also says the state should take another look at its Protection of Persons and Property Act, a version of the controversial Stand Your Ground law that rose to prominence during the George Zimmerman case in Florida. "We need to make it clear that people do have a right to defend themselves in their homes and defend their personal property and vehicles. But we have to look at seriously nullifying the language that pertains to 'anywhere a person has a right to be,'" Kimpson said in an interview before the primary election.
Washington, meanwhile, faces the official opposition of Charleston County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Hricik, who says he accepted Washington's candidate filing only because he was "legally obligated to do so." Washington previously ran for the state legislature as a Republican, and he has also donated to the campaigns of Republicans Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Chip Limehouse, and Chip Campsen. To top it all off, in an April letter of support for Washington's re-election to the S.C. State University Board of Trustees, then-Sen. Robert Ford described Washington as "a faithful and dedicated Republican since 1984."
In an interview before the primary, Washington said he was "proud" of his association with state Republicans, who helped him accomplish goals like securing $45 million for the construction of new dormitories at S.C. State.
Washington says he opposes school vouchers but supports a "private sector-public sector partnership in support of education." He says he is "open-minded to looking at" expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. "But I also need to know — and I think it's very important — how we're going to pay for it ... What programs will be hurt or compromised as a result of finding the revenues to pay the cost of it?"
Looking forward to the Aug. 27 primary runoff, Washington says voters will have "a clear choice."
"[Kimpson] described himself as a lifelong Democrat and described me as a lifelong Republican," Washington says, "and we believe that that is the tone for the next two weeks: whether or not the voters want to send someone to Columbia who is focused on fighting Nikki Haley and fighting Republicans in the Senate, or someone who will be focused on building relationships and working across party lines to get real things done."