Originally created 04/08/06

Ryberg gives big in race



COLUMBIA - Aiken Sen. Greg Ryberg is betting $2 million of his own money on a bid to win the Republican primary for state treasurer, a job that pays $92,000 a year.

"I'm in this race to win and I'm dedicated to do what it takes. I never ran for this job because of the pay," Mr. Ryberg said of his part-time job as a state senator.

Mr. Ryberg disclosed his contribution on a campaign finance report he filed Thursday. A week earlier, millionaire Thomas Ravenel entered the race. In 2004, Mr. Ravenel loaned his U.S. Senate campaign $2.3 million - two-thirds of the amount he spent for his third-place finish in the GOP primary.

The day after Mr. Ravenel entered the race, Mr. Ryberg made his contribution.

Mr. Ryberg's $2 million sets a record for personal money going into a campaign, says Cathy Hazelwood, chief counsel for the South Carolina State Ethics Commission, the agency that enforces the state's campaign finance laws. It's far more common for candidates to loan their campaigns money.

And Mr. Ryberg isn't alone in putting loads of his own cash into a lower-ballot race. Last week, Republican Mike Campbell announced he'd put $500,000 into his campaign for lieutenant governor.

Plunking down millions can be both a liability and an advantage for Mr. Ryberg. For one thing, it is money he can't get back. Ms. Hazelwood says he can only recover $25,000.

Treasurer Grady Patterson's re-election campaign criticized Mr. Ryberg's donation. The two faced off for treasurer in 2002, with the incumbent Democrat taking back the office for an eighth term.

"Welcome to the Ryberg-Ravenel show, where you have to be a millionaire to run for treasurer," said Trav Robertson, Mr. Patterson's campaign spokesman.

Mr. Patterson's campaign also took a shot at a company owned by Mr. Ryberg that won two contracts to provide fuel for the state.

"If ordinary citizens could use their Senate seats to receive $80 million in state contracts, we could all afford to put $2 million into our campaigns," Mr. Robertson said.

Terry Sullivan, a consultant working with Mr. Ryberg's campaign, said the senator's company had the low bids and saved the state $230,000.

"I'm not even going to dignify that comment," Mr. Ryberg said.

Mr. Ryberg's $2 million shows commitment to the race that can help raise cash and the visibility and organization money buys, said Brad Gomez, a University of South Carolina political science professor.

"You have to show you have money before you can get money," Mr. Gomez said.

Mr. Ryberg said he needed the cash because it has been hard to get the media to take the treasurer's race seriously.

Mr. Ryberg's campaign finance report shows he raised $188,596 during the first quarter of the year and had $2.5 million on hand April 1.

Jeff Willis, who is in the primary against Mr. Ryberg, also filed a report this week showing he'd raised $5,710 during the quarter and has $51,066 on hand.