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AAUGH! South Carolina GOP Funding Decision Scrambles Counties' Primary Plans

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[Peanuts image by Charles Schultz courtesy of davepear.com]

Earlier this week, the South Carolina GOP stunned election officials by announcing that they would not, as promised, be paying $650,000 to the cost of the state's January primary but would instead limit their contribution to $180,000 from filing fees by the candidates in the January 21 vote.

Party officials claim their decision is required by the recent state Supreme Court ruling - described by the party chair as a "game changer" - that the state and county election officials are required to run the primary as part of their authority under state law. The party's executive director suggested that county election officials only had themselves to blame: "The state party was negotiating in good faith with these four counties through the state Election Commission, and yet they filed a hugely expensive lawsuit knowing this was one of the potential outcomes."

An attorney for the counties suggested just the opposite - that counties were using the lawsuit to clarify funding details in advance, given the party's willingness to cover "legitimate expenses" involved with the primary:

The counties offered to dismiss the lawsuit if the Republican Party put $1.9 million in escrow to reimburse all 46 counties for their expenses. Their attorney [] said the state GOP never made a counteroffer, and officials in the Republican-dominated counties were trying to be fiscally responsible by sorting out the funding details in advance - and get it in writing.

While it isn't clear that the ruling does, in fact, prevent the state party from helping to defray the costs, the end result is that the state and counties are suddenly struggling to find the money to cover the expected $1.5 million tab. The Governor is already on record as opposing taxpayer funding for the primary and has also indicated that she will not allow the state election board to run at a deficit, as has previously been the practice.

Unfortunately for the counties, their decision to use court action to force the state party to pay a share of the primary costs - which I described back in October as a "briar patch" strategy - appears to have backfired.

This story has already taken many different twists and turns and it isn't unreasonable to expect one or two more - but for now South Carolina is left to search for money to cover election costs for a primary held on behalf of a party that - for now - is no longer willing to pay.

"AAUGH," indeed.

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