Originally created 08/29/98

Accusations fly over S.C. gambling money



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- No one is playing their cards close to the vest in this year's gubernatorial race as charges and countercharges fly over the influence of video gambling money on the campaign.

Democrats allege Republican Gov. David Beasley broke a promise not to accept money from gambling interests by accepting a $5,000 contribution from a Detroit businessman.

Republicans want the State Ethics Commission to investigate whether laws were violated when they say video poker operator Alan H. Schafer financed attack ads on the governor. One of the state's largest video gambling machine owners, Fred Collins, who is financing his own anti-Beasley campaign, also has asked the commission for an opinion on the issue.

Beasley opposes gambling and promised not accept money from the industry. His opponent, Democrat Jim Hodges, favors a state lottery and gambling interests have contributed thousands of dollars to his campaign.

Democrats on Thursday questioned a $5,000 donation made by the family of Samir Danou to Beasley. Danou was part of a group that failed to win the rights to build a Detroit casino.

Beasley campaign manager Tony Denny denied the donation breaks the governor's pledge. But he did say the campaign will likely return $1,000 from Thomas Celani, a businessman who contributed to Beasley at a Detroit fund-raiser.

Celani is a partner in a group approved to operate a casino in Detroit. Denny said the contribution was an unavoidable oversight in campaign that has raised $4 million.

"We will return his money promptly, and we will encourage him to get behind the candidacy of his natural ally, Jim Hodges," Denny said.

On another front, state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, and four other Republican lawmakers said they want an investigation of a Ban David Beasley radio ad.

Martin said the ad is financed by video poker operators and questioned whether it should be subject to required disclosures of money spent to influence elections.

An advertising agency controlled by Schafer, operator of South of the Border, has spent almost $52,000 on the ads, The (Charleston) Post and Courier reported. Among its motel rooms, gift shops, gas stations and other tourist attractions, South of the Border also operates a large video gambling parlor.

Almost 4,300 ads criticizing Beasley's education record are scheduled to run on three Pee Dee stations through Nov. 1, according to station documents Beasley's staff gave the newspaper.

Suzanne Holt, a Schafer spokeswoman, said the 84-year-old Dillon resident did not pay for the ads. The agency that did, Ace-Hi Advertising, is a subsidiary of South of the Border, said Holt, who refused to confirm the amount spent.

"I don't care if they know Ace-Hi Advertising is placing these spots, but I have a problem with them going in and pulling my contracts," she said.

She said Schafer knew of and approved the ads, but final approval rested with the board of directors, which does not include Schafer. Holt said it was an accident there initially was no line in the ad saying who paid for it.

Martin said disclosure reports shoudl be filed with the ethics commission, and the commission and Republican Attorney General Charlie Condon should investigate a whether there is an effort to buy the election.

Commission Executive Director Gary Baker said individuals and businesses generally can spend what they want independent of any campaign but it becomes questionable if they coordinate efforts.

Martin and state Sen. David Thomas, R-Fountain Inn, asked the ethics commission to look into the matter and Collins, who is financing his own anti-Beasley campaign, asked for an opinon from the commission, Baker said.

"We'll take a look at it," but no decision has been made on whether to issue an opinion, Baker said Friday.