One of South Carolina’s top “Republican” lobbyists and political consultants has been connected to a rapidly expanding coastal S.C. campaign finance scandal.

J. Warren Tompkins – a GOP “Kingmaker” for many years (prior to a string of recent electoral reverses) – isn’t facing any legal problems at this point, but there are serious ethical concerns stemming from his proximity to a lobbyist for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, the organization at the heart of a major scandal that’s currently being investigated by the IRS and FBI.

Specifically, the Chamber is alleged to have organized a massive kickback scheme that routed nearly $350,000 in campaign contributions to Myrtle Beach area politicians (and U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett) in exchange for their support of a tax increase that funneled money directly into the Chamber’s coffers.  The funds were doled out in cashier’s checks cut from a shadowy network of “corporations” – and delivered to the candidates in stuffed envelopes (in some cases by Chamber leaders).

Tompkins, who managed Barrett’s gubernatorial campaign, has popped up in a series of emails that more definitively links the Chamber and one of its lobbyists to the scandal.

From a story published earlier this week by The (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Sun News:

“These guys are tied to the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce,” (Barrett deputy campaign manager Justin) Stokes said in an e-mail to (Barrett communications director B.J.) Boling and two of Barrett’s political consultants – Warren Tompkins and Heath Thompson.

“Brad Dean, the chamber’s president, worked behind the scenes to pull these together last quarter,” Stokes said in the e-mail.

Tompkins, in another e-mail, told staff members that he “cannot figure what the issue would be” with the donations.

“Try Mark Kelley, our Horry expert, or perhaps Allan [sic] Clemmons,” Tompkins wrote in the e-mail, suggesting that those two could answer questions about the donations.

“Talk to Mark Kelley,” Stokes told Tompkins and the others in another e-mail. “He would be familiar with these contributions and the connection” between the corporations and the chamber of commerce.

Kelley is a former legislator who now is the chamber’s lobbyist.

The e-mails do not make clear why Barrett’s staff thought Kelley would be familiar with the contributions. The S.C. Ethics Commission has strict rules that prohibit lobbyists from participating in campaign fundraising for state politicians.

Kelley and state Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, did not respond to requests for comments.

Clemmons also is among the politicians who received donations from the 14 corporations that are under investigation.

Wow …

This thing keeps expanding, doesn’t it?

And what a turnaround, too.  Earlier this year it appeared as though the whole mess would be swept completely under the rug.  Outraged that such a blatant fiasco would go unchallenged, we wrote a story back in the spring decrying the lack of a legitimate investigation into the matter by state authorities as well as the local media.

Fortunately, pressure from local political activists (notably Tom Herron) kept the heat on and this May the scam began unraveling.

That’s when representatives of the Chamber – after denying their involvement for months – finally admitted that they had helped dole out the envelopes stuffed with the controversial cashier’s checks.

Along with Barrett, four S.C. Representatives –  Thad Viers, Nelson Hardwick, George Hearn and Alan Clemmons – took those checks.  So did State Sen. Ray Cleary.  State Rep. Tracy Edge declined the contributions.

We’ll continue to keep our eyes on the coast as this scandal plays out … in the meantime, these lawmakers have some serious explaining to do.