SC Sen. Hayes of Rock Hill is target of elusive political group

jself@heraldonline.comOctober 5, 2012 

— S.C. Sen. Wes Hayes has become the target of an elusive political group that has local Republicans wondering who’s behind it.

Hayes, a Rock Hill lawyer serving in S.C. Senate District 15, was the subject of a political ad appearing in mailboxes this week that said, “Wes Hayes hit the jackpot with our tax dollars” next to a picture of 3 dollar signs matching up on a slot machine reel.

The group, called Conservative GOP PAC, doesn’t appear in the S.C. Ethics Commission database of campaign contributors and isn’t registered with the Federal Election Commission or the S.C. Secretary of State’s Office.

It has a Columbia post office box.

Whoever is backing the organization can remain anonymous and has few restrictions on how to spend money ever since a 2010 court ruling in a U.S. District Court in Florence, said Cathy Hazelwood, deputy director and general counsel for the S.C. Ethics Commission.

The court ruled that the state’s definition of a PAC, or political action committee, was unconstitutional along with any regulations applying to PACs, including those requiring disclosure, she said.

Some groups still register with the state and file regular disclosure reports, but they don’t have to, she said.

Joe Thompson, the local tea party activist and petition candidate running against Hayes, said Friday he doesn’t know anything about the ad or the group behind it, but added, “I don’t know that I can disagree with the message.”

GOP leader ‘disappointed’

York County Republican Party Chairman Glenn McCall heard concerns this week from local Republicans about the ad.

“The calls I have received are very supportive of Wes Hayes,” McCall said. “The folks seemed disappointed that they would attack Wes in that way.”

Chad Connelly, chairman of the S.C. Republican Party, said he also didn’t know who was behind the ad, though he’s been receiving a lot of calls about similar ads popping up all over the state.

He said the group’s name is clearly an attempt to tie itself to the Republican Party and said tea party groups driving petition candidates’ campaigns might be behind them.

“All these tea party groups, I’m assuming that’s probably the source, but it’s obviously not us,” Connelly said.

Paul Anderko, a member of GPS Conservatives for Action, a local tea-party infused political action committee that formed in the 2010 mid-term elections, said his group didn’t have anything to do with the ad.

The group has officially endorsed Thompson, said Larry Barnett, the group’s president.

Efforts to unseat Hayes, who has served in the state Senate since 1991, haven’t been limited to voters’ mailboxes.

Someone placed a sign on Interstate 77 northbound between S.C. 901 and Porter Road that reads “Vote Out Career Politician Wes Hayes.”

“I really don't care” about the ad or the sign, Hayes said. “I don't think that type of tactic hurts. I think a lot of (voters) appreciate my experience.”

Hayes says ‘no’ to debate

Hayes said he decided to turn down an invitation by a local conservative group to debate Thompson later this month.

Hayes said he decided not to attend because GPS is a political action committee that raises money to support candidates.

“I don't think I want to participate in a debate by a body that I don't see as neutral,” he said.

Instead, the group will host a “Change Columbia” rallywith details forthcoming.

Jamie Self 803-329-4062

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