Two people from Lexington County have brought lawsuits against the S.C. Democratic and Republican parties after the deadline for candidates to file a campaign disclosure-related form was extended.
The rule being debated is 08-13-1356. The main points being debated are:
"(A) This section does not apply to a public official who has a current disclosure statement on file with the appropriate supervisory office pursuant to Sections 8-13-1110 or 8-13-1140.
(B) A candidate must file a statement of economic interests for the preceding calendar year at the same time and with the same official with whom the candidate files a declaration of candidacy or petition for nomination."
The lawsuit contends:
"The South Carolina requirements for filing to become a candidate nominated by a political party primary are clear... because these individuals were required to file and SEI concurrently with their SIC, but failed to do so, these individuals are not qualified or eligible to seek nomination by political party primary for the respective offices and are not qualified as candidates to run in the general election."
Two candidates – Dan Duryea running for the seventh district, and Laura Sterling running for House district 120 – would likely be affected if the S.C. Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs.
A third candidate, Cynthia Bensch, is also running for the seventh district and falls into something of a gray area on whether she would be affected by a S.C. Supreme Court decision or not.
She and Duryea are the only candidates running for the seat. There is no incumbent because redistricting took a precinct from North of the Broad and moved it south. District seven was created by taking a chunk of County Council Chairman Weston Newton's district and corner of councilman Jerry Stewart's district.
Bensch, who served on the S.C. State Election Commission for four years, said last week she wasn't required by the commission to file an SEI for 2011 because candidates finishing their term don't have to. She filed her statement April 15, which was the deadline set for incumbent candidates or people who already hold public office. She said in her 20 years combined experience both on the commission and as vice chair of the county Republican Party, the SEI was never a big deal.
"This document needs to be provided (to candidates) at time of filing," she said. "To penalize people for something they're not told or provided... I don't think that's what the court would intend to do."
I couldn't find the rule that Bensch was referring to, but in any case, if the Supreme Court decides any candidate who didn't have a form on file at the time they bid for office is disqualified, the seventh district of Beaufort County could be left without anyone to vote for in the June 12 primary.
Both Duryea and Bensch said they wouldn't challenge the high court if they were disqualified.
"This is a mess," Bensch said. "Where does this leave me? There's one little sentence that could affect me."
Duryea said he's been in Beaufort County since 1981 and has thought about holding public office for a while, but said he won't push the issue.
"For me, it will wind up being someone at a much higher level in government that could either positively or negatively affect me," Duryea said. "As an individual, I'm not ging to worry because it's going to be what it's going to be... I have to chalk this up as another lesson in life."
The high court will hear arguments on the case tomorrow (May 1). It is not known when the justices will announce their decision.