House District 45 candidate returns contributions

A controversy surrounding out-of-state campaign contributions has prompted House District 45 Republican candidate Deborah Long to return the money.

Long's opponent, Fred Thomas, said Long's out-of-state contributions came from conservative New York millionaire Howard Rich.

Long, a Fort Mill optometrist, admitted she received contributions from out-of-state sources including New York, California, Utah, Arizona and Texas. But Long said she did not know if the contributions came from Rich. None of the checks were written directly from Rich, she said.

"I received the checks before the (Republican) primary, before I even heard of Rich," Long said.

On Monday, Long said she returned 12 checks for $1,000 each to out-of-state donors whom she did not know.

With each check, Long said, she enclosed a letter stating she was returning the money because South Carolina is becoming more sensitive to out-of-state contributions.

"I didn't want to offend them," she said. "For all I know, I could have sent back checks from friends of local supporters."

Recently, South Carolina candidates receiving contributions from Rich have been scrutinized. Critics say Rich contributes money to candidates to fill the Legislature with lawmakers who share his support of school vouchers. Long has said she does not support school vouchers.

In addition to the money Long received from Rich, Thomas said he is concerned about the large percentage of contributions to her campaign from optometrists outside of District 45.

"That raises the serious question, to whom is she going to be responsible?" Thomas said.

Thomas said 80 percent of his campaign funds have come from donors in York and Lancaster counties. Long said she does not know how much of her contributions have come from out of state or from outside District 45.

"My treasurer is out of town, and I haven't crunched the numbers," she said.

According to the S.C. State Ethics Commission Public Disclosure and Accountability Web site, Long has received 194 contributions ranging from $25 to $5,000 since the beginning of her campaign. Twenty-six contributions, ranging from $50 to $1,000, were from out of state, and 126 contributions ranging from $25 to $1,000 were from out of the district. A $5,000 donation from out of the district was from the Republican Caucus.

Thomas said he fears optometrists have funded Long's campaign to have access and influence on legislative decision making.

"The optometrist lobby is the second most powerful lobby in South Carolina. She is a past president and understands what it means when you donate money to legislatures," Thomas said.

Long said the optometrists she has received money from are people she has known for years.

"I would have hated to run for office if none of those people thought enough of my ability to support me. Wouldn't that look bad?" she said.