ROCK HILL — S.C. Sen. Wes Hayes has become the target of an elusive political group that has local Republicans wondering whos 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, doesnt appear in the S.C. Ethics Commission database of campaign contributors and isnt registered with the Federal Election Commission or the S.C. Secretary of States 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 states 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 dont have to, she said.
Joe Thompson, the local tea party activist and petition candidate running against Hayes, said Friday he doesnt know anything about the ad or the group behind it, but added, I dont 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 didnt know who was behind the ad, though hes been receiving a lot of calls about similar ads popping up all over the state.
He said the groups 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, Im assuming thats probably the source, but its 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 didnt have anything to do with the ad.
The group has officially endorsed Thompson, said Larry Barnett, the groups president.
Efforts to unseat Hayes, who has served in the state Senate since 1991, havent 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