Intrigue surrounding S.C.'s Democratic primary deepens

By Garance Franke-Ruta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2010; 7:45 PM

The intrigue surrounding this week's Democratic primary contests in South Carolina intensified Friday as campaign finance reports linked Gregory A. Brown, the challenger who lost to House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, to a Republican consulting firm.

Clyburn on Thursday called for federal and state investigations after another candidate, Alvin M. Greene, an unemployed Army veteran who lives with his parents, won a Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate there. Greene, who has an felony obscenity charge pending, "was someone's plant," Clyburn said.

Clyburn contended that Greene's campaign, and those of two other African American candidates, were designed to upend the Democratic primary process in the Palmetto State. He also named Brown and Benjamin Frasier Jr., a perennial candidate who surprised observers by beating retired Air Force Reserve Col. Robert Burton in the 1st District.

As late as Thursday afternoon, the Federal Elections Commission had no public record of any of the three filing quarterly reports revealing their funding sources or campaign outlays.

But in FEC reports filed late Thursday and early Friday, Brown reported that his single largest payment was to the Stonewall Strategies firm run by Preston Grisham, a former aide to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.). Grisham, a 2005 University of South Carolina graduate, was an intern for Wilson in 2003 and went on to serve as his special assistant and campaign manager.

Brown's campaign paid Stonewall Strategies $23,760 this year for "marketing" and "marketing materials," according to the FEC reports.

In an e-mail late Friday, Clyburn said the reports "highlight what we knew all along, that Wilson's staff and other Republican operatives were involved" in Brown's campaign.

"We might find similar circumstances if other candidates follow the law and file disclosures," he said. "There are deadlines for disclosures so that voters can have this pertinent information regarding candidates and their campaigns before they vote, not after. Failing to file disclosures on time is not only a violation of the law, it is an effort to deceive voters, something that Brown's consultants were doing throughout the campaign."

Brown did not immediately respond to messages from The Washington Post, but he told the Web site TPM on Friday that he was unaware of the extent of Grisham's work on the other side of the aisle.

"We searched high and low, there were very few people willing to get involved . . . we searched almost two months before we came up with Stonewall Strategies," he told the site, ultimately choosing Grisham because he was willing to work for a challenger against a rock-solid incumbent like Clyburn.

Grisham, 27, called Clyburn's allegations about Brown "absolutely crazy" and said his firm would work with anyone whose policies it supported. Brown was "a very conservative Democrat who advocated for a lot of the same things I agree with," he said. "When you look at the 6th District, it's not a seat that Republicans are ever going to win. I want the best candidate you can get in there."

Brown won just 10 percent of the vote in his challenge to Clyburn, but the nine-term incumbent said Thursday that during the final two weeks of the primary cycle it nonetheless became clear that "something was going on in South Carolina that was untoward. . . . I couldn't quite put my finger on it . . . but I knew that something was amiss."

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