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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."

"It's not just Mr. Greene. This was a broader issue than that one race. There's somebody somewhere subverting the entire process in the Democratic primary," Clyburn said in a conference call.

Greene's candidacy, Clyburn said, reminded him of the case of GOP operative Rod Shealy.

In 1990, Shealy recruited an unemployed black fisherman facing felony charges, Benjamin Hunt Jr., to run for Congress in the Republican primary to boost white turnout in a different race on the ballot -- one where his sister was the candidate. Because South Carolina has open primaries, Republicans can vote for Democratic candidates and vice versa.

Shealy was ultimately convicted of violating campaign finance laws after it was revealed that he had paid Hunt's campaign filing fee.

"When I learned that this gentleman, Mr. Greene, was accused of a felony, I just felt this was 1990 all over again," Clyburn said.

Greene's $10,400 campaign filing fee was written on a blank check with "Alvin M. Greene for Senate" handwritten across the top.

South Carolina Democratic Party chair Carol Fowler called Wednesday for Greene to drop his campaign in light of the charges against him, but Greene has said he intends to remain on the ballot.

Keiana Page, a spokeswoman for the SCDP, said efforts to remove Greene from the ballot were centering on whether an indictment would prevent him from remaining on the ticket. "We've been talking with our attorneys about looking into the charges that he has against him," she said. Greene was arrested but has not entered a plea or been indicted on the charge.

A spokesman for Sen. Jim DeMint (R), Greene's opponent in November's general election, called the idea that Greene was a Republican plant "ridiculous," and Greene has said he paid the filing fee himself and is running to call attention to the plight of the unemployed.

Also on Friday, the campaign of Greene's opponent, Charleston attorney Vic Rawl, said it was working with election fraud scholars and statisticians to study what it said were anomalous vote patterns in the race.

"I think everybody in the state was pretty shocked by what happened Tuesday night, including Mr. Greene," said Walter Ludwig, Rawl's campaign manager.

After the vote numbers came in, "we thought we saw some weird stuff," he said. That included 303 of the more than 2,100 precincts in the state going for Greene by more than 75 percent, and a substantial discrepancy in the vote preferences of those who voted by absentee ballots and at the polls.

"My patriotic I love America hope is that this was just a fluke election and this guy won and God bless him," he added. "Nobody in the world would ever want to see an election messed with."

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