NOTE: Kerry Wood is a Tea Party Activist and Republican candidate for Senate in District 11.
My phone rings a lot these days with questions from across the state regarding the lawsuit filed by Michael Anderson of Lexington County to have candidates removed from the ballot who didn’t file their Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) on time. This potentially affects more than 150 candidates statewide, as well as tens of thousands of voters.
While I have no idea how the judges will rule, I think there are some important things to consider: The procedure in question was changed for 2012. In all prior elections, candidates were given a paper SEI to fill out, along with other forms, when filing to be on the ballot. However, in this election cycle, the State Ethics Commission did away with the paper form and required filing to take place online.
Section 8-13-1356(B) states, “A candidate must file a statement of economic interests for the preceding calendar year at the same time and with the same official with whom the candidate files a declaration of candidacy or petition for nomination.”
In a strict interpretation of the above, everyone, including all incumbents would be in violation of the law as no one filed their SEI “at the same time with the same official...” Most incumbents argue they do not have to file their SEI until their normal filing date of April 15th and that they have a “current” filing until that date, but the law above clearly states “preceding calendar year…”
To further complicate matters, those charged with the oversight for these matters sent out letters to candidates stating they had until April 15th to file. We have copies of letters from both State and Senate Ethics giving April 15 as the deadline. This letter states:
“…you must also electronically file your SEI by the April 15th deadline to avoid a late filing penalty...”
It goes on to describe the penalty as a $100 fine, not that you will not be allowed on the ballot.
This is not an issue of people willfully disobeying a law as much as it is a very poorly designed procedure. I liken it to anyone who has ever bought a home; the closing attorney places all the paperwork in front of you and you sign. If the attorney made a mistake and left out a form, should they take your home away from you? Of course not, that would be a pretty extreme punishment. For most of the people running, incumbents included, they have put months, some even years of work into building a campaign. They filed in good faith that they were completing all the necessary paperwork.
This suit is politically motivated and the courts should toss it out. Should they decide to remove one candidate from the ballot over this issue, they will have to remove all candidates from the ballot and the fallout will be nothing short of chaos. There will be ballots across the state with no candidates for office. What will happen then? Will we hold dozens of special elections at the expense of the taxpayers?
I believe the worst thing that could happen is for this lawsuit to be successful. If you think politics are already dirty in South Carolina, then watch what happens if this is allowed to succeed. This will become the new political norm and year after year we will be subject to political opponents trying to win their elections in the courts instead of at the ballot box.
IF the procedure is truly so sacred that you have to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters, then there can only be one real solution to suit everyone; delaying the elections until August (has been done in recent history) and reopening filing for all seats statewide would give everyone time to do it right.
In reality, no harm has been done to the voter with the late filings of the SEI, but great harm would be done to the voter if denied a choice at the ballot box. Those bringing the suit want this to apply to candidates (challengers) but any ruling to remove candidates from a ballot would ultimately be a ruling against the people (against the voter/taxpayer).