Close campaign loophole

While state Rep. Herb Kirsh's bill is aimed at limiting out-of-state campaign donations by a specific donor, the principle behind the bill is appropriate for any donors.

Kirsh, D-Clover, has introduced a bill that would limit how much one person can donate to a candidate's campaign through corporations. Kirsh has stated that this measure is designed specifically to close a loophole that has allowed New York real estate magnate Howard Rich to influence state campaigns.

State law limits individual donations to a candidate for statewide office to $3,500 per election cycle and $1,000 for the state Legislature. But separate corporations have the same limit as individuals, so a person controlling 10 corporations could contribute 10 times more than other individuals.

Using this loophole, Rich and his allied corporations donated at least $155,000 to about 30 South Carolina candidates in 2006.

An individual donation to the campaign would have been restricted to $7,000 -- $3,500 for the primary and $3,500 for the general election. But Gov. Mark Sanford, running for re-election that year, was the recipient of $21,000 from Rich and his corporations. Failed Republican candidate for education superintendent Karen Floyd got $38,000, and state Comptroller Richard Eckstrom got $11,500.

Republican Mick Mulvaney, who won a House seat that covers northeastern York County, including Fort Mill, and northern Lancaster County, including Indian Land, also was a recipient of a significant contribution from Rich and his associates.

Rich, who is head of Americans for Limited Government, is one of the nation's most avid proponents of providing vouchers or state tax credits to people who send their children to private school. With the amount of money he has lavished on South Carolina candidates who share his views, his clear intent is to make South Carolina an experimental laboratory for vouchers.

We disagree with that goal and believe it would be destructive to the state's public education system. But Kirsh's bill addresses a larger issue: a loophole in state campaign finance laws that allows unfair influence over our electoral process by wealthy individual donors.

This has the potential to alter the balance of power in the state. As Kirsh notes, "If people let money talk, that can happen very easily."

In Rich's case, money is being moved into the state by a New York multimillionaire on an ideological crusade to install a voucher system in South Carolina. But anyone with the money and the personal or corporate ties to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates for public office can exploit this loophole.

We agree with Kirsh: Close the loophole.