Georgetown Democrats guilty of state campaign finance law violation

Contact: Tom Swatzel (843) 357-1673

GEORGETOWN - The State Ethics Commission has found the Georgetown County Democrat Party guilty of violating state campaign finance disclosure law by failing to publicly report United Steel Workers union officials' ongoing contribution of rent-free office space at a Georgetown union hall that was used as Democrat Party headquarters for years.

In the Ethics Commission ruling issued July 16th the county Democrats admitted to the violation, were required to file amended campaign finance disclosure reports listing the in-kind contributions from the union, and were fined $100.

Georgetown County Republican Party Chairman Tom Swatzel said, "Georgetown County voters have a right to know just how indebted Democrat Party officials are to union bosses who have a very recent history of deceiving Georgetown County taxpayers and threatening city businesses."

The Ethics Commission investigation confirmed that the union hall owned by the Steel Workers union local 7898, located on Butts Street in Georgetown, was used by the Democrat Party for meetings, office space, and storage, and that "retired" steelworkers actually answered the telephone that was maintained by the Democrats at that location.

According to website archives, the county Democrat Party's website listed the address of the union hall as its headquarters beginning in September 2004. After Swatzel first publicly raised the contribution violation issue in September of last year, the union hall address was dropped from the website.

None of the party's campaign contribution and expenditure forms submitted to the State Ethics Commission through 2007 disclosed any contributions from the union or rent payments to the union.

State campaign laws define contributions as "anything of value made to a candidate or committee to influence an election," and include in-kind contributions or expenditures.

Swatzel said he's not surprised Democrat Party officials would attempt to cover up the extent of their financial dependence on Steel Workers union boss James Sanderson, who in 2001 was featured in a national publication on union corruption for misusing Georgetown County taxpayers' money to promote local Democrats, and in 2003 threatened a boycott of downtown Georgetown businesses if they did not "support" the steel mill and union.

According to the National Legal and Policy Center's Union Corruption Update, Sanderson deceived county officials and taxpayers by gaining a $3,000 county accommodations tax grant, along with contributions from area businesses, to pay for a 2000 Labor Day parade event under the guise of a supposed non-profit charitable group called the "Georgetown County Labor Council."

That group was later found not to be registered as either a non-profit or a charitable organization with the S.C. Secretary of State as required, and the tax monies and private contributions were actually deposited into the Steel Workers union's bank account. The funds were then used for a partisan Labor Day event that featured Democrat Party candidates and officials.

Then state Attorney General Charlie Condon said in a 2001 opinion on the matter that if the "purported nonprofit corporation involved is, in reality, a sham and . . . the public funds ended up in the account of a labor union . . . if these facts are indeed true, such would surely be an expenditure for a private, not a public purpose. If a labor union represented itself as a nonprofit association for the purpose of obtaining public funds, such would clearly be an improper use of public funds."

According to the Georgetown Times, in June of 2003, Sanderson threatened a union boycott of Georgetown City businesses unless they signed a petition supporting "Georgetown Steel and its employees." One downtown business owner called Sanderson's tactics "extortion."

In March, Sanderson's son, Jamie, also a Steel Workers union member, was installed as the chairman of the county Democrat Party.

"From controlling the Democrat Party finances to having the union boss' son as the party chairman, the Steel Workers union takeover of the Georgetown County Democrat Party is now complete," Swatzel said.