Ethics director: Nothing wrong with Lt. Gov. raising money for nonexistent race in SC

Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, speaks to lawmakers in the senate chamber during the first day of legislative session at the South Carolina Statehouse Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — There’s nothing wrong with Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant raising money for a nonexistent race, said the director of South Carolina’s ethics agency.

The Republican lieutenant governor has collected more than $100,000 since January toward a 2018 bid for a full term. But voters won’t separately elect the next lieutenant governor. Starting next year, gubernatorial candidates will pick their running mates.

Bryant can legally raise money for the job despite the change, state Ethics Commission director Steve Hamm told The State newspaper .

Voters passed a constitutional amendment in November 2012 to have the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket. But the ballot question specified the changes wouldn’t start until the 2018 election.

State law’s definition of a candidate also covers Bryant’s unique situation, as it includes someone who’s seeking an appointment. That could apply to someone hoping to be selected for a gubernatorial ticket, Hamm said.

Bryant’s fundraising includes about $60,000 transferred from his state Senate campaign account.

The Anderson Republican, first elected to the Senate in 2004, stepped into the lieutenant governor’s role after Nikki Haley was confirmed as United Nations ambassador and Henry McMaster became governor.

While voters approved changing the state constitution nearly five years ago, legislators have yet to sort out in state law how a gubernatorial candidate can pick a running mate.

Until they do, candidates should follow current law, Hamm said. That requires candidates seeking office in 2018 to file with the state Election Commission beginning in March.

Proposed legislation would remove lieutenant governor hopefuls from the required filing and set an Aug. 1 deadline for a party’s gubernatorial candidate to name his or her running mate. Both chambers have unanimously approved similar versions of the bill. A House-Senate panel will attempt to reach a compromise when the Legislature returns in January.

If the bill doesn’t become law early next year, there will be legal uncertainty over how to proceed, said state Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire.

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