by JUSTIN ALEXANDER || The home of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina’s No. 1 tourist destination, Horry county is the fastest-growing county in the state – and among the fastest growing in the nation. Its booming population, comprised largely of retiring seniors, is rapidly approaching 400,000. And if political party labels are any indication, Horry is as solid red as it can get: Every office in the county is held by Republicans except for a single school board seat.
On the surface, it’s understandable that GOP leaders have frequently boasted about Republican dominance for almost 20 years. But this time, it appears that it’s the underbelly of the party – what lies below the surface – that has caused real trouble, stirred emotions and created major rifts within the GOP.
Today, the Horry County GOP is again at a crossroads. With dueling co-chairs, broken rules, and allegations of financial irregularities, how did it come to this?
Every two years, each county party holds an election for county chair. At the 2019 county convention, though, something odd happened. When the vote was first announced, incumbent Dreama Perdue was declared the victor over challenger Ed Carey by a vote of 103 to 93.
Someone soon realized, however, that these numbers didn’t add up. A recount was conducted, and new results were announced – a 103-103 tie.
Somehow ballots were either missed, miscounted, or … who knows.
Despite rules stipulating that county party elections required a simple majority, a compromise was reached. With the encouragement of executives at the South Carolina Republican Party, the unusual decision was made to move forward with co-chairs – although some Perdue supporters continue to claim that she is the sole chair. The state executive committeeman was also elected by less than a simple majority. When questioned about this, the convention parliamentarian – State Senator Greg Hembree – misstated that only a plurality vote was required.
Ignoring the Rules
The SCGOP county chair handbook states that local party committees “should maintain records of all expenditures for four (4) years… [including] all receipted bills, canceled checks, and other proof of payment for all expenditures.”
The handbook also states that “the Treasurer is responsible for keeping a record of all receipts and expenditures…”
Furthermore, the Horry county GOP rules state:
All checks drawn on the Party’s checking account must contain two signatures. The chairman is authorized to be one of those signatories. He or she is authorized to countersign checks up to $1,000 in furtherance of the party’s operation and goals …
Expenditures in excess of $1,000 require prior approval of the County Executive Committee’s “Ways and Means Standing Committee” which oversees the Party’s finances and budgeting. If approved, both the Chairman and the Committee’s Chairman must countersign the check. If disapproved, the Chairman may appeal to the County Executive Committee.
Section 2. The Ways and Means Standing Committee The committee must by a majority vote of the committee approve all expenditures in excess of $1,000. The committee’s chairman must countersign, along with the Party chairman, all checks in excess of $1,000.
The Website Fiasco
Earlier this year, the county executive committee passed a motion authorizing $500 to be spent on updating the county’s website. On her own – and without approval or knowledge of the Ways and Means Committee – co-chair Perdue wrote a check to cash on May 24, 2019, for $1,500 for website coding. This check was signed only by Perdue. Thus, it violated a) the requirement that the Ways and Means Committee approve expenditures over $1,000 b) the requirement for two signatures for all checks, and c) the committee’s own motion to spend $500 on this project.
A Check for Cash?
This check written to cash has been the focus of many of the questions posed about the Horry County GOP. Early last summer, Co-Chair Perdue stated that the $1,500 came from Congressman Tom Rice’s office. An invoice to the Party was submitted by state executive committeewoman Gerri McDaniel for precisely $1,500 for 20 itemized website services, plus updates and maintenance dated June 3, 2019 – more than a week after she had been paid for doing the work in cash. But in an executive committee meeting in October, former Chairman Robert Rabon announced that it was he who had given Perdue $1,500 in cash to build the website. While it is difficult to reconcile those two statements, how the money was transferred out of the county’s account is an even thornier problem.
At that same October meeting, Ms. McDaniel made the stunning revelation that the reason cash was used is because the person who did the coding for the website is receiving disability payments and requested the payment in cash so that it would not have to be reported. This goes beyond party rules and crosses over into true IRS territory. A Co-Chair has admitted to making cash payments so as to avoid reporting requirements. Party officials have not suggested that Ms. Perdue or anyone is enriching themselves at the Party’s expense – but these actions represent not only a serious breach of the Bylaws of the HCGOP, but a serious breach of standard business practices in play in American. Additionally, in the world of politics in general – cash is all but forbidden. Candidates, for example, may not accept contributions of more than $25 without reporting same to the Ethics Commission.
Co-Chair Perdue organized a HCGOP event with Senator Graham. Co-Chair Carey attended, paid $25 in cash, requested a receipt, but was surprised to be told that no receipts would be given. This again violates basic accounting practices.
September 16, 2019 Meeting
The September 16, 2019 meeting of the party was advertised as open to executive committeemen only and the only new business issue on the agenda was for co-chair Perdue to respond to the issues raised by various party members. The meeting, however, got bogged down in preliminaries, committee reports, and a fight over whether state representatives Russell Fry, Alan Clemmons, and Heather Crawford – as well as State Executive Director Hope Walker and State Chairman Drew McKissick – could remain during executive session despite none of them being members of the HCGOP Executive Committee.
A motion was narrowly passed allowing non-members to stay.
Eventually a motion was made to postpone addressing the substantive issues until the next meeting – to provide Ms. Perdue a few more weeks to answer each of the questions and concerns presented to her directly by Co-Chair Carey and the HCGOP Treasurer, Eric Santorelli and in two letters sent to her by Co-Chair Carey’s attorney.
October 7, 2019 Meeting
Prior to the September and October executive committee meetings, Co-Chair Carey acquired bank deposit records going back to 2016. There was a bank service charge of $99 for copying these records that were unattainable and/or unaccountable via his previous request for same from the prior party Chairwoman and current party Co-Chair Perdue.
The October executive committee meeting which was held for Perdue to answer the questions held over from the September meeting. This was the only item on the meeting agenda. Instead of addressing the lack of records and accountability issues, Co-Chair Perdue defense was to make a point of contention of who authorized obtaining the past records from the bank which incurred a bank service charge of $99. Co-Chair Carey stated this was a part of his fiduciary duty and was required to get a picture of what the financial activity of the party had been, since prior request for financial records from Purdue went unanswered and there were no other records were available that would show deposits into the account. These bank records would also assist the Ways and Means Committee in creating a budget using past accounting history.
Carey also questioned why a credit card of Co-Chair Perdue’s is being automatically paid monthly out of HCGOP checking account. Carey has requested receipts from the credit card, but has not received them. He has also repeatedly requested a copy of the insurance policy that covers the party, but again his request was flatly refused by Co-Chair Perdue. Eventually Brown Bethune, husband of Myrtle Beach’s controversial new mayor, made a motion, seconded by John Bonsignore, to retroactively approve the check for the $1,500 cash payment. This passed on a voice vote despite a call for a roll call vote. In addition, the new party Treasurer Santorelli emphasized that there has been a lack of records and if the IRS did an audit, there would not be sufficient records to respond to the audit.
The meeting ended with many questions still unanswered, with Perdue claiming she was being attacked and Carey reeling again from being stonewalled. While there were calls to put these issues behind the party, with no resolution, this will certainly be a hard task.
The Rules and Lindsey Graham
The Horry County GOP has a rule regarding officers endorsing candidates. Section 1-A states:
“Elected and appointed officials of the Horry County Republican party shall not endorse, work for, assist, or allow their name to be used in support of a Republican candidate who has opposition from another Republican candidate during a Primary or Run-off election …
Failure to comply with these requirements shall constitute prima facie evidence for their dismissal as an elected or appointed official of the Horry County Republican Party”.
Senator Lindsey Graham is running for reelection in 2020. Senator Graham has at least five announced Republican challengers – three of which have filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. (Dwayne T. Buckner, Peggy Kandies, Michael LaPierre, Joe Reynolds, and David Weilke). These campaigns started many months ago. Despite having multiple announced challengers, Co-Chair Perdue is a member of Lindsey Graham’s Leadership Team.
When asked about this, she has stated that Graham does not have opposition. When confronted with opposition, she has responded that filing has not officially opened. Under any fair reading of the rules, Senator Graham has opposition (the article announcing Graham’s Leadership Team actually discussed the challengers.) It remains to be seen if the Horry County GOP will enforce their own rule in this regard.
Armed with these facts, it is no surprise that there is a great deal of mistrust in the Horry County GOP on both sides. One group seems to be willing to smooth things over, let bygones be bygones, and not look too hard into the rules or their violation (past or present). The other group insists that rules have an actual meaning and must be followed – after all, the Republican Party claims to be the party that follows the rules. Can this rift be healed, or will one group come to dominate the party? Or will an outside group (the SCGOP, the State Ethics Commission, a federal agency) make this decision for them? Time will tell.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Justin Alexander is a conservative activist from the South Carolina Upstate.
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