An Embarrassment of Rich(es)

On March 28 the SC House voted 65 to 49 for H.4894 to use public money to fund private and home schools.  Rock Hill School Board Member Walter Brown spent most of that day listening to the debate on H. 4894 from the floor of the House.  He described it as follows:

“There were many amendments offered by Representative Doug Brannon and others to place accountability on private schools in line with those imposed on public education. I am not sure how he maintained his composure as one amendment after the other was tabled.  In fact Rep. Brannon was asked at one time to withdraw his further amendments since they would be tabled – which he refused to do. As the various members spoke against the bill it sounded like there was a party going on in the House as the Speaker continually asked for order so the speaker could be heard. It was very apparent that the supporters of the bill had no intention of changing their minds and ignored first one speaker after the next. “

I know that I listened to only a few minutes of the “debate” and heard one lonely-sounding person plead with the House not to support a bill including no accountability for the funds to be allocated.  I then closed off the audiocast in embarrassment at the sounds of derision for him coming from the background and in despair for SC children and for SC taxpayers who find potential state revenues being given to some without assuring the money is well spent.

Perhaps the sounds in the background were bill supporters happy to be pleasing their out-of-state owners –   as one Legislator arguing against the bill noted.  The 65 in favor certainly were not voting for the good of most of the SC people who elected them.  The bill itself is based on an ALEC template but the bill owes its passing to the wishes and contributions of Howard Rich, the New York real estate investor.

In the early 1980’s Mr. Rich was active in the Libertarian Party with David Koch but left that group to form his own groups.  Rich is on the Board of the Cato Institute and other groups reflecting his libertarian views.  His political goals are for term limits, to enact school choice laws, and to limit government in a free market system.  Two state lobbying groups receiving large contributions from him are South Carolinians for Limited Government headed by Randy Page and the South Carolina Club for Growth.

Through the web site,  I learned that in 2010 Ralph Norman apparently received no funds from a Howard Rich source.  He was, after all, running unopposed.  Deborah Long was reported in The Rock Hill Herald in October to have returned the $1,000 checks she received because “South Carolina is becoming sensitive to out-of-state donors.”  John King also returned the $1,000 check he received because he noted that he supports public education.

The remaining four York County representatives accepted considerable amounts from groups known to be headed directly by Rich or by “shadow”companies which allow him to donate more than the $1,000 limit for State House Legislators’ campaigns.  The companies are usually from New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia and have names such as LaSalle, Inc., Broadway, Inc.  On the Legislator’s contribution site most donations from these organizations arrive on the same date.

Thus, on 11/25/10 Greg Delleney accepted $5,000 from Rich Lending of NY, Silver & Silver of NY and three other New York locations.  Dennis Moss’ contribution record shows $5,000 from LaSalle Assoc, Rich Lending of Philadelphia, StilRich of New York, and two others. On 11/1/12 Tommy Pope’s $5,000 came from CoolCal Corp and Mango LLC of Philadelphia and three others from Philadelphia or New York.  Gary Simrill’s contribution from Rich organizations came from five companies on 1/6/10 but was followed on 10/23/10 by another $1,000 from CoolCal LLC.

At least $21,000 was spent by Howard Rich JUST on our York County Delegation.  For Tommy Pope, reporting a $74,000 campaign chest for his run against Herb Kirsh, $5,000 represented only 7% of his total.  On the front page article in The Herald of April 8, 2012, Pope is quoted as saying that he doesn’t remember getting the money directly from Rich.  Five $1000 checks on the same date and all from New York or Philadelphia and he doesn’t remember them?

Howard Rich donations make up 33% of Greg Deleney’s campaign fund and almost 20% of Gary Simrill’s.  Do you wonder that one of our Board members was incredulous when a legislator acted/feigned surprise that anyone would think that these donations would influence his vote?

The Herald,  Rock Hill SC. report (taken from The State, Columbia, SC) on Rich on April 8 reports that 38 SC representatives received contributions totaling $188,000.  In this same article Rich is quoted as saying, “If I want to do something I strongly believe in, like “empowering” parents……..I should be allowed to do that.

I think he is wrong.  There are many causes which the rich/powerful “believe in” which wreak havoc in our world.  Hitler is the first to come to mind but the dictators now being resisted in the Middle East, whites during slavery and extreme segregation, the credit-default-swap creators on Wall Street in 2008 are all examples of strongly held beliefs which were/are not good for the whole of society.

The “whole” of our community to whom our legislators owe honest representation include those who are poor and live on less than $40,000/year, whose only hope is well-funded public education  –  just as much as those in Gary Simrill’s neighborhood whom he  referenced as deserving tax credits to keep their children in private schools   I was present when this was his answer in a York County School Boards joint meeting in 2009 as to why he supports choice and why his mantra is “The money should follow the child.”  My answer is there is a choice and that choice is in strong public schools.

The tax credits he voted for might be helpful to those upper-middle class families living in his own neighborhood.  They would not help a majority of South Carolinians who earn too little to owe any SC income tax and certainly insufficient SC income tax to make the credits worthwhile.   The most important point is that our legislators are elected to try to meet the needs that most closely help the greatest number of those in their districts.  None of them are elected to meet the needs/desires of a wealthy man in New York City.

This years’ voucher/tax credit bill is very similar to those adopted in other states.  (ALEC do you think?)  I have been reading about its effects in those states and will report what I learned in my next blog.

Below are some web links related to this blog:

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