Originally created 11/09/99

Officials debating state law



AIKEN -- Aiken City Council is in a quandary over whether to reprimand a city election office member who ran a campaign this fall.

City Attorney Gary Smith asked South Carolina's attorney general to decide whether H.A. "Mac" McClearen legally could serve as Robert S. "Skipper" Perry's campaign manager.

Mr. Perry, a Republican, defeated independent Scott Singer for the House District 81 seat last month. Mr. Singer said Mr. Perry's campaign might have violated state election law by appointing Mr. McClearen as campaign manager while he was serving as a member of the Aiken City Election Commission.

The council met behind closed doors Monday to discuss an informal opinion concerning the personnel matter from Attorney General Charlie Condon's office.

They came out of the meeting still "foggy" about the state law, Mayor Fred Cavanaugh said.

"We could take action on what we know, one way or the other," he said, "but we'd like a more definitive opinion."

The mayor said council is asking Mr. Condon's office for a formal opinion regarding the ambiguity of the law. He said he doesn't know when council will make its final decision.

According to officials, the state law is vague.

The one paragraph in section 7-13-75 that addresses the issue states: "No member of a county or municipal election commission, voter registration board, or combined election and voter registration commission may participate in political management or in a political campaign during the member's term of office."

This sentence seems very clear, the mayor said. But another sentence in the law is confusing, he said.

"No member may make a contribution to a candidate or knowingly attend a fund-raiser held for the benefit of a candidate over whose election the member has jurisdiction." And it is clear that Mr. McClearen has no jurisdiction on the special election for the state Legislature, he said.

Mr. Singer said the first passage is straightforward. Both Swatha Shah, a member of the House Legislative Ethics Committee, and Jim Hendrix, state Election Commission chairman, interpreted this as a violation, he said.

"I can certainly appreciate council wanting to be comfortable with the law," Mr. Singer said. "But personally, I think the law is pretty clear, and I think it's a shame this has gone on this long."

Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.



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