Earlier this month, the Conservation Voters of South Carolina (CVSC) put out a press release touting the organization’s gains in the S.C. Legislature, only to scurry for cover literally days later as lawmakers drew a fresh bead on its top priority funding item, the State Conservation Bank.
So much for the illusion of clout …
Worse still, there is mounting evidence that CVSC Executive Director Ann Timberlake is in serious trouble – not only with a growing group of lawmakers who obviously don’t hold her organization in as much esteem as she thinks they do – but possibly with the law itself.
The fact that Timberlake is illegally serving in a lobbying capacity for the CVSC is not really in question … well, except in those State House circles where semantic obfuscation is the language of choice.
“She has directly engaged me and several of my colleagues in lobbying on multiple occasions,” said one lawmaker who spoke with FITS on condition of anonymity. “And if it comes to that, we have the paperwork to prove it.”
Of course, given how lobbying laws go routinely unenforced in South Carolina, the fact that Timberlake is said to be in perpetual violation of them probably won’t result in any action being taken against her.
Nor does it appear that the CVSC will be punished for sending hackneyed political attack mail to voters using its non-profit postage permit, a big postal service and IRS “no-no” that should have cost the organization its discounted postal rate and possibly its tax-exempt status as well.
Must be nice residing on the PC side of life …
Yet those issues aren’t the real cause for concern as it relates to Timberlake.
That’s because last time we checked, there were much tougher laws (and legitimate law enforcers) in place when the allegations being tossed around involve the bribing of elected officials, which Timberlake has also been accused of doing in the past.
In fact, sources told FITS yesterday that representatives of the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) have been provided details of Timberlake’s alleged offering – and awarding – of the CVSC endorsement to former S.C. Sen. Catherine Ceips in an effort to gain her support for a piece of legislation that the group was pushing.
Ceips – who was defeated this summer by longtime Conservation Bank advocate and former Sanford Chief-of-Staff Tom Davis – scored an abysmal 17% on the CVSC’s 2005-06 voter scorecard, the last session for which she received a complete ranking.
According to previously-published reports, Ceips was allegedly offered the CVSC’s endorsement (as well as its “Most Improved Lawmaker” award) in the weeks leading up to her election in exchange for a pledge of support on a key piece of environmental legislation.
No fewer than three people witnessed the alleged exchange between Timberlake and Ceips, and we’ve been told that their names have been provided to SLED.
The CVSC did endorse Ceips, although her defeat negates the other side of the alleged quid pro quo.
Whether or not anything substantive comes out of the investigation, Timberlake’s methods have clearly crossed the line – and rubbed more than a few people the wrong way.
Several new groups – including the industry-sponsored S.C. Citizens for Sound Conservation – have popped up in recent months, and these organizations appear to be taking the fight directly to the environmental lobby.
Such fairly-obvious front groups should be easy prey for a respected environmental organization, but Timberlake doesn’t appear to be in an effective position to capitalize on what should be a slam dunk PR win for the greenies.
Plus, she’s alienated several lawmakers and opinion leaders who would typically represent a natural constituency for the issues that are important to her organization.
Damn we said that pretty well, didn’t we?
Anyway, you can put us in that column as well because the honest-to-God truth is that we agree with Timberlake more often than we disagree with her.
Believe us, cutting Conservation Bank funding in any year is a mistake, particularly given how much money other states are investing in their natural resources.
And Timberlake is correct in pointing out that we need a sustained commitment, not just a budget line when times are good.
This mistake has the potential to become even more pronounced (and business detrimental) in a state like South Carolina, where we depend on our unique look and feel to promote a thriving tourism industry.
Hopefully the CVSC will wise up and put someone in charge of its political operations that has the respect – and the clout – to get things done for such a vital component of our state’s continued economic well-being.