PART I of III
By A. Citizen
In politics, business, relationships and life, there is one commodity you can never have enough of … credibility.
Credibility goes beyond respect and trust for an individual; it implies a level of confidence in someone’s abilities. Maybe that ability is building a deck, organizing a charity fundraiser or simply teaching your daughter how to play soccer.
In almost every circumstance in real life, credibility isn’t something you can purchase. But life under the dome at the S.C. State House is anything but “real,” and that’s where one man focused on personal gain has managed – for the moment – to buy credibility.
This is the story of Frank Knapp, his liberal allies, the birth of the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce (SCSBCOC) and how he has used slick marketing gimmicks to gain personal treasure and organizational credibility where neither was deserved.
Our story begins in 2000, when the SCSBCOC was formed because its founders felt that “the interests of small business were not considered by the General Assembly when new legislation affecting the general business community was being debated.”
The new “chamber” had several ringleaders:
Tim Wilkes, a former Democratic State Representative who was implicated but later cleared in the Lost Trust scandal.
Richard Davis, a well-heeled Democratic lobbyist who has made his living forming new trade associations then charging them lobbying and management fees.
Rod Shealy, a veteran political consultant who claims Republican lineage but has worked for candidates in both parties.
Frank Knapp, a public relations consultant who dabbled in political consulting with Democrats and the defunct pro-Confederate flag group The Palmetto League.
Many others have been involved with the SCSBCOC, such as current and former state legislators Andre Bauer, Jake Knotts, Ernie Passailaigue, Becky Martin, Glenn Reese, Mac Toole and David Mack. But the face of this organization, and the one person who has profited from it most, has been Frank Knapp.
Besides children and law enforcement, you would be hard-pressed to find a special interest group that enjoys such broad public affinity and strong legislative support as small businesses.
These are your mom-and-pop restaurants, local auto repair shops, florists, plumbers and small manufacturers.
In other words, they are not faceless corporations out to maximize their stock price; they’re people you see at the July 4th parade and at the local Friday night high school football game.
That’s why representing small businesses to state government is like representing small town values and apple pie.
Except there’s one problem – that’s not who Frank Knapp is representing.
In fact, the whole premise underlying the SCSBCOC is completely false.
In 2000, there were many small business organizations lobbying in South Carolina: the Homebuilders, the REALTORS, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Truckers, the General Contractors, numerous local chambers of commerce, etc.
Small business wasn’t without representation at the S.C. State House, and these groups tended to work extremely well with each other even though they represented different industries within the small business community.
They still do.
But Frank Knapp – a poor man’s P.T. Barnum – has continued to scam legislators, the media and the public into believing that he alone speaks for small business. He has amassed substantial credibility in the political arena with a cleverly-named organization and slight-of-hand when it comes to his membership.
The name of the SCSBCOC is pretty obvious.
In fact, if you didn’t know any better would naturally assume that the “SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce” speaks for small businesses in South Carolina.
But when you scratch just below the service, you see that something is missing at the SCSBCOC: small business members.
The SCSBCOC is not unlike the existence of Randall Stevens from The Shawshank Redemption: it only exists on paper.
The membership roster of the SCSBCOC simply co-opts membership rolls from other organizations.
Most interesting of the co-opted membership includes the SC Association of Trial Lawyers and the SC Association of Claimant’s Attorneys.
Ask any small business owner or entrepreneur about trial lawyers and personal injury attorneys, and you’re likely to see their blood pressure rise to untold heights.
In addition, these two associations comprise the bulk (by some published estimates as much as 80%) of the 5,000 members claimed by the SCSBCOC.
Amazingly, Frank Knapp has managed to maintain credibility with “pro-business” legislators despite this inherent conflict and the fact that he doesn’t have any “real” small business members.
After you’ve peeled away this layer of the onion, you have to remove another juicy bit of irony.
If you didn’t now any better, it would be reasonable to assume that Frank Knapp lobbies for small business issues under the cover of the SCSBCOC. If that was the case, with 5,000 members, one would presume this would be his primary employment.
Once again, that presumption would be false.
Frank Knapp’s first priority is a radio talk-show he produces each weekday called “U Need 2 Know,” hosted on WOIC, Columbia ’s progressive talk radio.
For two hours during the afternoon drive each weekday, Knapp bumbles and blathers about all things liberal and progressive. But what goes unsaid is the time it takes him to prepare for his shows.
A rule of thumb used by many in the industry is that you should put in at least an hour of preparation for each hour of airtime.
So at a minimum, if Frank Knapp is preparing for his show like most hosts, he would have to spend at least 20 hours per week on his radio show, which means lobbying for small business clearly isn’t his top time commitment.
In fact he is better described as a member of the media than a member of the lobbyist corps.
So … to recap Part I of this three-part expose on the ongoing scam of Frank Knapp and the SCSBCOC, we learned that there wasn’t a need for small business lobbying in the Statehouse because there were already plenty of organizations lobbying for all kinds of small business issues.
We also learned that the SCSBCOC only exists on paper with co-opted membership that is often at odds with real small business concerns.
Finally, we learned that Frank Knapp’s first priority is as a member of media, hosting a liberal radio show, than showing up to the Statehouse to lobby for small business issues.
That’s all for now … but we’ll continue this magical mystery tour about the credibility of the SCSBCOC and Frank Knapp next week with some first-hand accounts of Frank’s famous statements, ridiculous rants and why he always sits with the trial lawyers at committee hearings.
Editor’s Note: “A. Citizen” is an anonymous column written by FITS readers just like you. We accept submissions from any reader on any topic, and do not disclose anyone’s identity under any circumstances in the event we decide to (or not to) publish them. We reserve the right to edit as we deem necessary. To submit a column, just e-mail Sic Willie at firstname.lastname@example.org.