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money down drain

By John Cattano || As a businessman, my experience is in the private sector, most notably as a real estate developer and part-owner of several hotel properties in South Carolina and Georgia. I also served as Deputy Treasurer and then Treasurer of the SCGOP from June 2009 through March 2010.  I am writing this piece because I believe in preserving fiscal conservative values within the Republican Party of South Carolina.

I was asked by SCGOP Chairwoman Karen Floyd last summer to become the Treasurer of the party, and after some initial guidance by Glen O’Connell – who had served as SCGOP Treasurer for a few years under Katon Dawson – I assumed that role in December of 2009.  I resigned three months later.

In short, I would describe my tenure as an absolutely toxic experience that I could simply no longer endure.  Not only was I forced into a reactionary position concerning the party’s extravagant spending on non-electoral items, I was also forced to oversee expenditures on items that would only serve political insiders in Columbia – and to do so without objection.

I believe the responsibility of the SCGOP should be to help elect fiscally conservative Republican candidates in South Carolina.  I do not believe it should be used as a promotional vehicle for its chairman or the various political consulting firms who continually fleece the SCGOP of its funds.  These consultants serve little purpose but to drain massive amounts of cash from the party, and in my opinion they are nothing more than an incestuous pool of individuals bent on advancing their own agendas.

Unfortunately, Chairwoman Floyd fails to realize that it is not her money that the SCGOP receives, but rather the donors – and that no entity has an entitlement to these funds.

In fact, the average donor would be outraged to learn of the expenditures undertaken by the SCGOP over the past nine months.  For example, the hundreds of donors who graciously sent $50 – and who may struggle financially month-to-month – would never understand why the consulting firm of Richard Quinn & Associates was paid $16,000 during the first quarter of 2010 alone, or why the SCGOP had to spend almost $8,000 on a self-promotional brochure for the Chairwoman that was disguised as an “annual report.”

Nor would they understand the thousands of dollars wasted on redundant and worthless printing expenses that were performed by these “consultants” to garner additional income to their firms.  In total, I estimate that the political consulting elite have been paid approximately $60,000 over the past seven months.  In addition, I am sure many members of the SCGOP would be quite surprised to learn that the party still retains a working-capital loan of approximately $20,000 from First National Bank of the South with a monthly payment of $582.  All debt was supposed to have been erased recently with the gracious donation of Roger Milliken, or that’s at least what everyone was told.

Also, while the SCGOP website is indeed excellent, the use of $35,000 to build it when funds are so scarce is a questionable allocation at best, especially when the party is still in debt by approximately $20,000.  I understand the SCGOP website won an award at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference recently – and it should have considering the amount of money that was spent on it over the past seven months.

Shouldn’t the goal of the party be to win political elections – not website contests?  After all we have individual candidates like Mick Mulvaney who is attempting to unseat John Spratt, Sheri Few who is taking on Anton Gunn, and numerous other Republicans who will be in tough fights in November.  Shouldn’t these candidates be receiving these funds instead of a group of overpaid consultants?

If the SCGOP cannot become a better steward of its donors’ generous commitments – if it cannot lead by example through the exercise of fiscal restraint with regards to its OWN funds – then how can Republicans be trusted with anything?

At a time when the SCGOP is criticizing Democrats over their lack of spending restraint, how can this accusation be taken seriously when the GOP’s own fiscal house is out of order?

Preserving cash and considering every nickel to be a valuable resource should be a basic tenet of any organization – particularly one that claims to fight for those principles in government.

That is not what is happening, though.

During my time with the SCGOP it was disappointing to witness the lackadaisical attitude and general lack of regard shown to expenditures that were being paid for with the after-tax income of donors.  The donors of the SCGOP assume that their funds are being used to promote Republican candidates – not to promote the self-interest of its Chairman or political consultants.  Accordingly, I determined that if I continued on as Treasurer then it would mean I was advocating this loose spending attitude, which is why I decided to resign effective March 31, 2010.

My resignation is neither a vendetta against Chairwoman Floyd, nor a personal attack on any of the direct officers of the SCGOP, but strictly an opinion on the uses of SCGOP funds.  Many of the employees and officers of the SCGOP are rising stars; Wes Donehue is a savvy young man who is a genius with technology, Joel Sawyer is a master at communications and operations, and Adam Piper has done a phenomenal job as Third Vice Chairman organizing young Republicans.

Unfortunately, however, their work is often wasted due to excessive spending on consultants.

Also, it’s a real shame that talented individuals such as Ryan Meerstein and Todd Kincannon – both former Executive Directors of the SCGOP over the past nine months – were chewed up and spit out by the chaotic and dramatic management style of Chairwoman Floyd.  In the past I have been one of Floyd’s biggest promoters, making generous donations to both her 2006 campaign debt repayment and SCGOP chairman’s election.  I have also always assisted her fundraising efforts for individual GOP candidates.

However, the goal of fiscal conservatism in government is larger than one individual and begins at the top through displays of leadership, and my loyalty is with the SCGOP and the executive committee that selected me – not with its Chairwoman.

In conclusion, I truly hope Chairwoman Floyd begins to pay closer attention to the scarce monetary resources that are at her disposal.  I also hope she begins to manage the party in a more efficient and organized manner – one in which constructive discussions and feedback are encouraged and not disparaged.  A solution to this problem might be for the SCGOP executive committee to appoint an independent finance committee (whose members are not selected by the SCGOP Chairman) to meet each month for the purpose of examining and reviewing party expenditures.

In the end, I was not the correct fit for Treasurer because I am not accustomed to ignoring spending binges in any of my businesses. Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach of the Green Bay Packers said, “Some people try to find things in this game that don’t exist, but football is only two things, blocking and tackling.”

Maybe it’s time for the Republican Party to get back to the basics as well. I will continue to financially support Republican candidates through donations to individual candidates, but I will not be contributing to the SCGOP because I know where the money really goes.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: John Cattano is a real estate developer and part-owner of several hotel properties located in South Carolina and Georgia.  He served as Treasurer of the SCGOP from December 2009 until last month.