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Campaign contribution claims sent to SLED

October 23, 2009

Campaign contribution claims sent to SLED

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is
looking at a complaint on controversial campaign donations made to a trio of elected city officials. 

According to Gov. Mark Sanford’s spokesman Ben Fox, the governor’s office received information from a citizen about the campaign contributions and were asked to investigate. As a matter of policy, Fox said the governor’s office forwarded that complaint and information to SLED.

Fox noted it is up to SLED’s discretion whether or not to investigate
the claims.

Allegations were made earlier in October in a message board post on
http://www.discovermyrtlebeach.com, stating funds were used to “thank” and
“reward” elected officials who voted on the recently-passed Myrtle Beach
tourism tax.

Officials from Business Owners Organized to Support Tourism (BOOST)
stepped forward and said they are the ones behind the claims.

Politicians who received the funds, according to the post, include
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes and current city council members Randal
Wallace and Charles Martino.

The web post claims South Carolina State Ethics Commission records
reveal each candidate received $1,000 contributions from the same 24
companies. BOOST alleges the companies are shell businesses operated by
the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Chairman Brant Branham of the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce says he
is the contributor behind the donations, given to those he believes, as
an individual and businessman, deserve re-election.

NOTE: from discovermytlebeach.com forum:

Posted 13 October 2009 – 11:56 AM

UPDATED:
Discover Myrtle Beach has received the following story, originally
unsigned as we originally stated. We have received confirmation from
organizers of BOOST (Business Owners Organized to Support Tourism) who
claim responsibility for the writing the story:

As previously mentioned urge anyone to look into the matter further and
draw their own conclusions.

MYRTLE BEACH INCUMBENTS EACH RECEIVE $24,000 IN IDENTICAL CONTRIBUTIONS
FOR RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGNS!

Official South Carolina Ethics Commission records show that all four
incumbents running for re-election on November 3rd in the City of Myrtle
Beach received identical donations of $1,000 each from the same
twenty-four (24) companies – a whopping total of $24,000 each or $96,000
total that may have even been distributed on the very same day (see full
list below). Even to the average voter, that seems at least unusual.
Those familiar with political campaigns, however, know that A.) City
Council Candidates don’t often raise that much money for an entire
campaign; and B.) for all four incumbents to receive the identical
amounts from identical donors is virtually unheard of.

An elementary school child with a limited knowledge of the Internet
could put all the pieces together in a matter of hours, so it should
raise eyebrows that the Sun News and other Myrtle Beach area media has
not already begun serious investigative reporting. The questions that
must be asked are painful, but obvious:

1. Who is in a position to successfully coordinate the distribution of
$96,000 to the four incumbent politicians and what would they have to
gain from doing so?
2. Where did the twenty-four, $1,000 checks REALLY come from?
3. What is the connection between Palmetto Advocacy Consultants, LLC and
Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce since they share addresses and
officers?
4. Were any Chamber of Commerce funds dedicated to advertising
redirected into the coffers of elected officials who voted to give them
the $180 Million Ad Tax (officially known as the Tourism Development
Fee) and, as a result, did taxpayers unknowingly contribute to these
politicians through the Chamber?
5. Is each of these LLCs a functioning company or nothing more than a
shell created to distribute campaign funds?
6. Do any of these twenty-four entities directly or indirectly benefit
from contributions to these incumbent elected officials; specifically,
how do Visit Media and/or Miller Direct benefit from contributions to
elected officials and what do they do for the Chamber?
7. Did any other politician receive the same twenty-four, $1,000 checks?
(DiscoverMyrtleBeach.com is now investigating that possibility).

The Background & Timeline

Last May, with area businesses cutting expenses and laying off employees
in response to the recession and the aggressive City-sponsored demise of
the annual Spring Bike Rallies, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of
Commerce (MBACC) accomplished something few believed possible. In less
than one month, Chamber leaders convinced the members of the Horry
County Legislative Delegation to craft and pass enabling legislation
that created a 10-year, $180 Million “Tourism Development Fee.”

Popularly known as the “Ad Tax,” legislation of this type would have
typically taken months to pass. Unique to this area, the bill allowed
Myrtle Beach City Council to raise the sales tax within the City limits
by one penny without putting it on the ballot as a referendum. The
legislation also severely restricted who was qualified to spend the
resulting $15-$18 Million annually, almost guaranteeing that only the
Chamber would qualify.

Faced with growing opposition, the final version included a provision to
reduce taxes only for those who own property within the City limits
beginning in the third year, offsetting for them what amounts to a 12.5%
tax increase for all residents and visitors alike.

City Council’s unanimous passage of the “Ad Tax” on May 29th, helps to
explain what apparently took place over the next few days.

Since the 1-cent tax did not take effect until August 1st, the Chamber
announced that they had borrowed $1,000,000 to begin advertising Myrtle
Beach tourism out-of-market. Almost simultaneously, the Chamber and/or
key members and businesses, began what can only be described as the
sloppy but coordinated distribution of almost $100,000 in campaign
donations to all the City incumbents ($24,000 each to Mayor John Rhodes
and Council members Wayne Gray, Chuck Martino & Randal Wallace).

The timing and details are only now becoming painfully revealing and
point to a coordinated Chamber effort to either “thank” or “reward”
elected officials for passage of the Ad Tax. In other words, taxpayers
who over the next 10 years will give the Chamber of Commerce some $180
Million promoting tourism in the City of Myrtle Beach may have actually
helped to fund the campaigns of the very same elected officials who
levied the tax on them without a public vote.

Bizarre Twist of Fate

Former mayoral candidate Keith Van Winkle, facing ethics problems of his
own, may have been inadvertently responsible for opening Pandora’s Box
when he challenged Mayor Rhodes Ethics filings on Monday, October 5th. A
quick check of Ethics Reports online for the Mayor and all three
incumbent Council members seeking re-election in November revealed that
only Councilman Wallace had filed his reports on time. The Mayor quickly
corrected his errors, followed by Councilman Martino – but their reports
unveil what appears to be a successfully coordinated effort by local
businesses to give all incumbents thousands of dollars.

The following timeline is taken directly from the State Ethics
Commission reports (www.ethics.sc.gov)

June 8th: Councilman Randal Wallace deposits twenty-four (24) identical
$1,000 checks from the exact same LLCs at the exact same addresses with
the exact same Registered Agents. In his defense, Wallace, who has a
reputation for telling-it-like-it is, apparently thought nothing of the
coincidental windfall as he is the only member of Council who reported
it promptly and properly when he deposited the checks on June 8th.

(The correct fact is most of the transactions to Wallace were deposited
on June 8th, but not all. There were a few done over the following days
according to ethics reports)

July 2nd: Mayor John Rhodes deposits the exact same twenty-four (24)
identical $1,000 checks from the exact same LLCs at the exact same
addresses with the exact same Registered Agents.

October 6th: Filings by Rhodes at the State Ethics Commission
(http://www.ethics.sc.gov) showed no contributions and no expenditures.
However, just two days after Van Winkle’s charges, the Mayor posted a
comprehensive list of expenditures and donations that prove, among other
things, he failed to follow rules by reporting the first $500 in
donations or expenses within 10 days.

October 8th: Included in $65,000+ in campaign contributions that Rhodes
reported are 24 (twenty-four), $1,000 contributions by the same 24
different LLCs – many sharing the same addresses and the same registered
agent and all “deposited” on the exact same day – July 2nd.

(NOTE: Of course, DiscoverMyrtleBeach.com has no way of knowing when
these checks were actually written to Rhodes, but by depositing them 48
hours after the Quarterly Filing Deadline of July 1st, Rhodes was able
to delay reporting them until October.)

October 10th: Councilman Chuck Martino submits his online Ethics report
which shows he received the same windfall – $24,000 in twenty-four
separate $1,000 checks – same LLCs, same addresses, same Registered
Agents.

October 13th: Only Councilman Wayne Gray has failed to report any
contributions or expenditures.

On the surface, it may appear coincidental – just another example of
elected officials benefiting from their incumbency. But anyone with
Internet access can play connect-the-dots as just a few minutes of
simple online research offers up some eye-popping coincidences.

Rhodes,’ for example, reports that he received 139 contributions in the
3rd quarter alone totaling over $65,000. By sorting by the “amount” and
“date” of the contributions, the alarms begin to go off. There they are:
24 separate contributions of exactly $1,000 each from the same 24 names
that appear on Wallace’s report and Martino’s report. The only
difference is the date – Wallace deposited the money on June 8th; while
Rhodes apparently waited until July 2nd and Martino waited until July
10th.

“So, Who Are Those Guys?”

Mimicking the words of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, one can’t
help but ask “who are those guys” giving all the money? For starters,
there are 24 LLCs – but not nearly as many addresses. That’s because ten
(10) of the $1,000 checks came from 1298 Professional Drive in Myrtle
Beach – the offices of DDC Engineering. Others are in groups of two each
on such area roads as Bayberry Lane, Enterprise Road and Long Ridge
Drive. Still others are around the corner at 4605 Oleander Drive, the
offices of Robert S. Guyton, Attorney (there’s another $1,000 from
Guyton at his home address). So far, so innocent. Or is it?

Turns out Guyton, a past Chairman of the Board of the Myrtle Beach
Chamber of Commerce, is also the official registered agent for no less
that (13) of these fine “business entities.”

One of the contributors, Palmetto Advocacy Consultants, LLC (PAC), lists
its address as 7588 Enterprise Road. However, the Secretary of State’s
office reports that PAC is located at 1200 North Oak Street, Myrtle
Beach – headquarters of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. It
also lists PAC’s registered agent as Darren Gore who happens also to
serve as the Chief Financial Officer of the Chamber and, presumably, is
the same individual responsible for collecting and distributing $180
Million in “Tourism Development Fees” from taxpayers over the next 10
years.

(See the SC Secretary of States website and search Palmetto Advocacy
Consultants: http://www.scsos.com…usiness_Filings )
Or View it Here: http://www.scsos.com…porateid=528994

Two other corporations who contributed at least $4,000 each to Rhodes,
Martino, Wallace and apparently Gray are listed as Visit Media and
Miller Direct (a “subsidiary of Visit Media”) – companies who publish
visitors’ guides, newspaper ads, direct mail and build websites.
Visit Media’s website (www.visitmedia.com) lists two addresses – 4214
Mayfair Street, Myrtle Beach, SC and 1741 Gold Hill Road Suite 102 Fort
Mill, SC. However, on Wallace’s report, both are listed as located in
Charlotte at 4421 Stuart Andrew Blvd. Calls to the North Carolina number
indicate that it has been disconnected. Apparently, the relationship
with the Myrtle Beach Chamber has become even cozier – at least
geographically. It is believed (so far unconfirmed) that Visit
Media/Miller Direct are the companies that publish and distribute some
300,000+ of the Chamber’s annual Stay & Play Guide.

The Bottom Line

In 1966, longtime Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright published a book
he called “The Arrogance of Power” and while its focus was on the nature
of nations, not men, his quote seems most appropriate to this developing
story. “The arrogance of power,” wrote Fulbright) “is the tendency of
great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities
with a universal mission.” Replace the word “nations” with individuals.
It’s the same philosophy of governance that causes otherwise honorable
individuals to believe that the “ends justify the means.”

Time will tell whether or not these elected officials are guilty of
specific State Ethics violations or accepted illegal campaign donations.
But time is up for the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce who clearly
launched a coordinated effort to generate millions of dollars a year
that only they qualify to spend by raising sales taxes on the backs of
the citizens of Myrtle Beach. At the very least, the Chamber needs to
explain why and how this has happened. At the very most, they should
lose their precious Ad Tax revenue and pay whatever price goes along
with their “arrogance of power.”

THE BIG “24” – A LIST OF INCUMBENT CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTORS

905 Polo Partners LLC 1298 Professional Drive Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
$1,000.00
Back Gate LLC 1298 Professional Drive Myrtle Beach, SC 29577 $1,000.00
Prtnrs of Cypress Plantation 1298 Professional Drive Myrtle Beach, SC
29577 $1,000.00
Porcher Partners 1298 Professional Drive Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
$1,000.00
AM & RD Title Agency 1298 Professional Drive Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
$1,000.00
CF Plantation Partners LLC 1298 Professional Drive Myrtle Beach, SC
29577 $1,000.00
Office Park Partners 1298 Professional Drive Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
$1,000.00
Creek View Land Partners 1298 Professional Drive Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
$1,000.00
Deluxe Land Partners LLC 1298 Professional Drive Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
$1,000.00
Beach Paralegal Services 1298 Professional Drive Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
$1,000.00
Guyton Family Invests LLC 4605 Oleander Drive Myrtle Beach, SC 29578
$1,000.00
Carolina Coast Invests LLC 4605 Oleander Drive Myrtle Beach, SC 29578
$1,000.00
Robert S Guyton 9502 Lake Drive Myrtle Beach, SC 29572 $1,000.00
AMRD Real Estate LLC 57 Bayberry Lane Myrtle Beach, SC 29572 $1,000.00
Garden City Partners 57 Bayberry Lane Myrtle Beach, SC 29572 $1,000.00
Palmetto Advocacy Consultants LLC 7588 Enterprise Road Myrtle Beach, SC
29588 $1,000.00
Martin Lee Enterprise, LLC 7588 Enterprise Road Myrtle Beach, SC 29588
$1,000.00
Visit Media LLC 4421 Stuart Andrew Blvd Charlotte, NC 28217 $1,000.00
Miller Direct 4421 Stuart Andrew Blvd Charlotte, NC 28217 $1,000.00
Carter Studios Highway 544 Surfside Beach, SC 29575 $1,000.00
Jonathan Carter 153 Long Ridge Drive Murrells Inlet, SC 29576 $1,000.00
Heather Carter 153 Long Ridge Drive Murrells Inlet, SC 29576 $1,000.00
By Faith Real Estate 5907 Woodside Avenue Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
$1,000.00
Jordan Investment Corp 3725 Willow Springs Road Conway, SC 29527
$1,000.00

Discover Myrtle Beach Notes:
A spokesperson for BOOST says, as part of a prepared statement “Members of BOOST are the people who uncovered this disgusting and arrogant distribution of monies and we’re proud of it. We invite Brant Branham & the MBACC to prove us wrong!”

LINK TO BOOST’S WEBSITE AND STATEMENT
http://www.boostsc.org/news.html

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