The South Carolina Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission demanding that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Inglis return a $1,000 check to his campaign by Tupperware's political action committee.
Party officials say they've since found another $3,000 donated to the Inglis campaign by other PACs and are calling Mr. Inglis to task for a Washington fund raiser sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with the congressman as guest of honor.
Democrats including U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, whom Mr. Inglis hopes to replace, have gleefully noted the contributions because Mr. Inglis insists he doesn't take PAC money -- that it makes lawmakers beholden to special interests. A sign on his office door in Washington says, "Notice to all PACs: Remember, you didn't give me a dime and I don't owe you a thing."
And he made a point of Mr. Hollings' PAC contributions by unfurling a 60-foot-long FEC report listing some $1.2 million such groups had given the incumbent senator's campaign.
But the Senate race is just one in which money is making political points this year:
-- The GOP complained that "organized gambling" is trying to buy state government with heavy contributions to the Democratic Party and a campaign to defeat incumbent Republican Gov. David Beasley. Rep. Lindsay Graham, R-Seneca, cited gambling money as a reason to ask for federal election monitors Tuesday.
-- Democrats countered by identifying contributions to Mr. Beasley's campaign from people involved in bidding for a proposed Detroit casino. The governor's campaign said it would be returned.
-- Mr. Beasley also donated $12,000 to Carolina Children's Home in Columbia after private corporations refused it as reimbursement for flights he took on their private planes -- another gift that the Democratic Party unearthed.
-- Democrat Grady Patterson, who wants back the state treasurer's job he held for 28 years until a Republican sweep in 1994, challenged incumbent Richard Eckstrom to repay $57,000 in taxpayer funds that settled an employee's complaint against him.
The woman threatened to sue because her job was changed after she filed a sexual harassment complaint against Mr. Eckstrom. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the conduct involved -- an alleged attempted embrace and kiss -- did not rise to harassment level.
Mr. Patterson said paying the woman not to sue was Mr. Eckstrom's responsibility: "Individuals expect taxes to pay for educating our children, not settling sexual harassment complaints."
Mr. Eckstrom said it would have cost thousands more in legal fees if the woman had sued, although the state would have won.
Mr. Eckstrom's brother, David Eckstrom, made an issue out of political contributions by his opponent for superintendent of education, Inez Tenenbaum, and her husband, Sam. The Tenenbaums gave $17,000 to national Democratic campaigns last election cycle, including the campaign of President Clinton.
But Mr. Inglis has been a favorite target because he is adamant that PACs should be abolished.
Such donations have to be reported and are open to public scrutiny. They are legal, and it is not unusual for PACs to donate equally to opposing candidates and their parties. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has contributed $1.3 million to the Inglis campaign, accepts PAC money, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents organized business.
State Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said the FEC disclosures show that Mr. Inglis has taken PAC money without reporting it.
Although the Inglis campaign contends all the checks were returned, reports filed with the FEC don't reflect that the PACs involved ever got them back, Mr. Harpootlian said.
Inglis campaign manager Bruce Haynes and press secretary Dwight Cauthen were checking last week to be sure what happened to the checks. Both thought that they probably had been returned, as is Mr. Inglis' custom, and just hadn't shown up on disclosures yet. The reporting periods for candidates and PACs do not coincide, they said.
As for indirect contributions from PACs, Mr. Inglis defended his participation in the Chamber fund raiser. "Only individuals may pay at this event," he said of the $100-per-person, $150-per-couple, dinner. But Hollings spokesman Robert Gibbs called those contributions and others from the GOP "laundered PAC money."
"Washington PACs raise money with Bob Inglis' consent and permission -- and he tries to tell us he's not taking a dime of PAC money," Mr. Harpootlian said. "Bob Inglis has taken PAC money from many sources and failed to report it. Bob Inglis wants voters to believe he has principles, but he's just a politician talking out of both sides of his mouth."
Margaret N. O'Shea can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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