COLUMBIA -- Republican Gov. David Beasley's campaign is taking a closer look at donations from a spring fund-raiser in Detroit amid Democrats' claims that some donors are tied to casino gambling.
But the South Carolina GOP says that more sinister "organized gambling" is behind a "Ban Beasley" campaign and wants the state Ethics Commission to see whether bankrollers were illegally concealed.
The claims and counterclaims have swirled with a frenzy over the past several days. At their heart is a dispute over money from gambling interests, especially video poker, and its influence in the governor's race.
Democrats say it is legitimate money from a business that is legal in South Carolina -- one of the few forms of gambling that is. Republicans prefer a phrase their state party chairman Henry McMaster coined: "Forget about money being the `mother's milk' of politics. ... Video poker money is the crack cocaine."
Beasley campaign manager Tony Denny said Friday, "I can't believe I'm being asked questions about a $1,000 contribution to a campaign that has raised $4 million when it is clear that video poker money is the bulk of the Hodges' campaign."
Jim Hodges is the Lancaster attorney and former member of the House, who is trying to unseat the governor. He has not participated in the state Democratic Party's allegations that Mr. Beasley violated his campaign promise not to take gambling money. And his campaign staff says that Mr. Hodges and his campaign are not involved in "Ban Beasley" advertising paid for by Fred Collins, South Carolina's largest video poker operator, and Aces-Hi Advertising in Dillon.
Aces-Hi is a subsidiary of South of the Border, the 107-acre tourist-entertainment complex, including a large video poker parlor, created by multimillionaire Alan Schafer, now 84, but a one-time powerhouse in the Democratic Party. Mr. Schafer was convicted of buying votes in 1981 and sentenced in federal court to 3 1/2 years, suspended, followed by five years probation, during which he was barred from political activity.
It's not clear whether Mr. Schafer was personally involved in placement of more than 3,000 "Ban Beasley" radio ads scheduled to run in the Pee Dee between now and November. The ads are like those placed by Mr. Collins, who admits giving copies to video poker operators around the state but says he did not suggest they get them aired.
Mr. Collins also has asked for an Ethics Commission ruling, as have at least five Republican lawmakers. One -- Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, also wants the state attorney general to investigate whether anyone is trying to buy the election.
The commission's executive director told the Associated Press, "We'll take a look at it."
Mr. McMaster said Friday that evidence strongly suggests that the "Ban Beasley" effort is a "conspiracy." If it is a coordinated campaign, both state and federal law would require disclosure of money spent to influence the election.
Mr. McMaster called on Mr. Hodges to:
Disavow the "Ban Beasley" campaign.
Disclose when he learned that it was a coordinated campaign, and
Urge the state Democratic Party to disclose all contributors to its administrative account so the extent of video poker money can be determined.
Tim Shock, manager of the Hodges campaign, said the demands are "ridiculous."
"How can we disavow something we have no connection with?" he asked. "How can we say when we became aware of something that, to our knowledge, is simply not true? And it seems very ironic to me that the Republicans are calling on the Democratic Party to disclose names that are not legally required to be disclosed when they have failed to disclose what is legally required."
He said the reference was to trips that Gov. Beasley took on private aircraft, then paid for when criticized.
Similar criticism of donations that stemmed from a Detroit fund-raiser is causing the governor's campaign staff to review them for ties to casino gambling.
"Casino gambling is not legal in South Carolina and never will be in my lifetime or yours," Mr. Denny said. "The governor's pledge at the beginning of this campaign was not to accept any video poker money, something that is legal in South Carolina and a scourge on our state. But if we find any that we can confirm is linked to casino gambling we will send it back and suggest that the donor give it to Jim Hodges, a more natural ally."
The fund-raiser came on the heels of intense competition in Detroit for casino licenses under a new state-regulated gambling franchise. At least two of the people who gave money to Mr. Beasley's campaign at the request of Republican fund-raiser Heinz Prechter were heavily involved in that fray, according to news reports in Detroit and Las Vegas, as well as the Wall Street Journal.
On Friday, Mr. Denny said the campaign will return a $1,000 contribution from Tom Celani, one of 139 investors in Atwater Entertainment. Atwater, with Circus-Circus, has been approved by the Detroit City Council to operate a casino there. Circus-Circus operates casinos in 15 states.
Mr. Celani and a business partner, Mike Malik of Algonac, Mich., also spent some $2 million to support a 1996 referendum on casinos in the city, according to The Detroit Free Press.
Mr. Denny said the Beasley campaign likely will keep a total of $5,000 given by Samir Danou and his wife, because their interest in a casino deal with Riviera Holdings was purely a real-estate development project, which the Detroit City Council did not approve.
Some of the entities proposing casino operations in Detroit had more than 100 investors, and Mr. Denny said the campaign never knowingly took money from anyone tied to gambling.
"In Atlantic City or Reno or Las Vegas, you'd be on the lookout for that," he said. " You don't expect to find it in Detroit.".
The state Democratic Party says, however, that the Danou name should have rung a bell with Republicans. Three years ago the GOP heavily criticized a $400,000 contribution the Danou family made to the Democratic National Committee, bluntly saying it was given in the belief that Democrats would support an end to United Nations sanctions against Iraq.
Mr. Danou is said to be an Iraqi-born American citizen.