COLUMBIA — Ginny Deerin, a veteran Democratic political operative who managed Charleston Mayor Joe Riley’s most recent re-election campaign, said she is running for S.C. secretary of state.
Deerin, 63, announced her bid Saturday in Greenville during the state Democratic Party’s annual issues conference. Deerin will challenge Republican Mark Hammond, the former Spartanburg County clerk of court who has been in office since 2002 and is seeking a fourth term.
Deerin has never run for public office. But she has been involved in statewide campaigns, working for Charles “Pug” Ravenel’s 1974 campaign for governor, which ended when the state Supreme Court removed Ravenel from the ballot because he did not meet the state’s residency requirement. She also was a fundraiser for Riley’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1994.
Most recently, Deerin founded Project XX, a campaign to encourage more women to seek appointment to college and university boards of trustees. She is the president of Lewis Walton LLC, a nonprofit consulting firm.
Deerin is one of least eight other women who are running for statewide office. Results of the June primaries could reduce that number.
Secretary of state is one of South Carolina’s nine constitutional officers, along with the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, education superintendent, treasurer, comptroller general, adjutant general and agriculture commissioner. The full-time job pays an annual salary of $92,007 to perform a host of administrative functions, including filings for businesses, nonprofits and charities.
If elected, Deerin said she would lobby the Legislature to lower the fees that the office charges for its various filings. While the office has a small budget – lawmakers gave it $950,000 last year – it collects more than $5 million in fines and fees every year, all returned to the state’s General Fund. Those fees were set by the Legislature decades ago and have no been changed.
“With the Legislature, (which) is not into taxation and fees, I don’t think it’s a hard pitch,” Deerin said. “The secretary of state’s office talks about how great their return on investment is, as if it were a public, money-making company. So it’s like, ‘For every $1 that we get from the appropriations, we make $6.’ I’m like, wait a minute, this is not a money-generating operation.”
Hammond said he has never asked the Legislature to change the fees. But, in 2004, he worked to eliminate one of them: a $10 fee that some businesses had to pay to file their annual report.
Hammond said South Carolina’s fees are some of the lowest in the Southeast. For example, out-of-state companies have to pay fees of $225 in Georgia and $600 in Tennessee, while South Carolina charges $110, according to a report compiled by the secretary of state’s office.
“It shows that we are a very efficient office and we are able to send money to the general fund, which, in turns, pays for a lot of other services that the state provides,” Hammond said.
Deerin, who has experience as a political fundraiser, said she will not accept campaign contributions of more than $100 because she wants to focus on a grass-roots campaign. She plans to have a campaign budget of $60,000 and hire one campaign staffer to help her in September, if she wins the Democratic nomination. (Thus far, she is the only declared Democratic candidate for the post.) Records show Hammond raised just more than $45,000 in 2010, when he defeated Democrat Marjorie Johnson, winning 60 percent of the vote.
“I am definitely a long shot, and I am a very unconventional candidate,” Deerin said. “But, you know, every once in a while unconventional people catch on.”