Long cuts financial ties with voucher supporter

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By Chris Sardelli

Deborah Long is the latest political candidate to distance herself from New York City millionaire and political activist Howard Rich.

After it was discovered that Long, Republican candidate for the state House District 45 seat, accepted campaign contributions from organizations linked to Rich, she decided to return the $12,000 in contributions. Rich supports school vouchers and has contributed money to Republican campaigns throughout the country.

"It was getting to be too much of an issue," Long said. "I wanted to clear the air and concentrate on the issues."

A list of organizations linked to Rich was recently revealed by Ross Shealy, a South Carolina blogger who runs a Web site called Barbecue & Politics and who has been investigating Howard Rich.

Several of the limited liability corporations, or LLCs, that Shealy connected to Rich, were listed on Long's campaign contribution reports from the S.C. State Ethics Commission. Some of those, including 405 49 Associates, 123 Lasalle Inc., Bradford Management of New York Inc. and 4220 Broadway LLC, each donated $1,000 to Long's campaign.

Before the primary, Long said she hired a consultant firm to advise her during the campaign. She remembers receiving several checks from people she didn't know and asked her consultant if the contributions were legal. They were, so she accepted them.

"As the campaign went on, information popped up about Howard Rich," Long said. "Then it dawned on me that's where (the contributions) came from. I never met the guy and nobody ever asked me my positions on anything, including school vouchers."

Long discovered that several people and organizations that were contributing money to candidates across the United States were tied to Rich in some way, including some who contributed to her. She decided the contributions were "clouding everything" and decided to return them.

"I really don't appreciate people questioning my integrity. For those reasons, I just gave the money back. I told him thanks, but no thanks," Long said. "I'm glad to have removed myself from that. If he's doing something wrong, I don't want to be a part of it."

Other large contributions were made to Long's campaign by the Palmetto Leadership Council, a pro-business political action committee that donated $1,000, and the S.C. Club for Growth, a conservative PAC that also donated $1,000.

The Republican Caucus Campaign donated $5,000. Many of the contributions to Long's campaign have come from optometrists from across South Carolina. Long is an optometrist who owns Fort Mill Vision Center.

Thomas questions Long's judgment

Long's opponent, Democrat Fred Thomas, was glad to hear she was returning the funds, though he said he would have to take her word for it.

"Since the (contribution) report has already been filed, technically after the election is when we will find out when the money was sent back," he said.

Thomas said he was disappointed Long took Rich's money in the first place. He said it showed "serious judgment problems" and that the only reason she sent the money back was because it was too detrimental to keep it.

Thomas is also concerned that many of Long's contributors are optometrists, a profession he calls "one of the most powerful lobbyist groups" in South Carolina.

Long said she doesn't know why Thomas is worried that much of her contribution money has come from optometrists or from people out of the district.

"My opponent is concerned I got checks from optometrists across the state, but I am one," she said. "I have been very involved and a lot of people across the state know me. That's where the support comes from.

Contributions to Thomas campaign

According to Thomas contribution reports, most of his contribution funds have come from individuals in the amounts of $500 or less, though a group called the Columbia Eye Group donated $1,000 and the S.C. Democratic House Caucus donated $4,000.

Donations to Mulvaney campaign

Criticism of Long's connection to Rich is similar to criticism that Mick Mulvaney, Republican candidate for the state Senate District 16 seat, received for accepting money from Rich in a previous campaign.

Two years ago, Mulvaney's campaign for the House accepted more than $7,000 from Rich, but Mulvaney said he has not accepted any more contributions from the activist.

None of the organizations listed by Shealy were found on Mulvaney's current contribution reports.

There were several large contributions to Mulvaney's campaign, though all were either from individuals or political action committees, or PACs. Some PACs that donated $1,000 each include the S.C. Club for Growth, the Realtors Political Action Committee and the Duke Energy Corp-State PAC. The largest contribution to Mulvaney's campaign was from the S.C. Senate Republican Caucus, for $5,000.

Donations to Norrell campaign

Democrat Mandy Powers Norrell's campaign contribution report showed several contributions from law firms in the amount of $1,000. Her campaign also received $1,000 each from John Spratt for Congress and the S.C. Trial Lawyers Association PAC.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416