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Tucker certified despite late filings

KC Democrats give 'benefit of the doubt' to councilman

Posted: August 16, 2012 5:40 p.m.
Updated: August 17, 2012 5:00 a.m.

The Kershaw County Democratic Party (KCDP) Executive Committee has agreed to certify Sammie Tucker Jr. for his Kershaw County Council reelection bid in November. Questions lingered before the committee finalized its decision over Tucker’s eligibility after he failed to meet required deadlines for filing campaign paperwork.

Tucker, who serves as council’s vice chairman, neglected to file statement of economic interest (SEI) forms for the last two years until finally submitting the paperwork July 23.

According to S.C. Ethics Commission (SCEC) General Counsel Cathy Hazelwood, Tucker filed his 2011 SEI form more than 15 months late, while missing this year’s deadline by about three months. SEIs are supposed to be filed by April 15 each year.

Hazelwood also indicated that he still owes the SCEC $21,000 in late filing fees and fines in connection with his 2010 run for Kershaw County sheriff. His late filing penalties for the sheriff’s race, however, do not affect his eligibility for his county council campaign. 

Concerns over Tucker’s lapse with his SEIs were magnified this election cycle in light of recent state-wide controversies over the filing of the forms. A lawsuit brought before the S.C. Supreme Court ultimately ended with about 200 candidates across the state being knocked off the June 12 primary ballot after failing to properly file SEI forms. Many non-incumbents criticized the court’s ruling, which stated that candidates were supposed to have filed SEI forms at the same time they filed for office. 

Incumbents, however, were largely unaffected by the decision after the court clarified an exemption in the law that allowed candidates with SEIs on file from 2011 to remain eligible.

If Tucker had followed suit with all other county officials and candidates in 2011, he would have had a SEI form on file with the SCEC. However, he did not file an SEI form in 2011 and consequently his eligibility was left in question for the 2012 general election. 

The decision to certify Tucker was ultimately left to the KCDP Executive Committee, which had to decide by noon Wednesday in order to place his name on the ballot. KCDP Chair Cindy NeSmith said the group concluded Monday night that he should be kept on the ballot due to the ambiguity of the relevant election law.

“This is a very confusing situation and we have decided to give the benefit of the doubt to the candidate,” said NeSmith.

NeSmith said the KCDP committee requested an opinion from S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, but his office declined to respond.

“They said they do not respond to political parties. Normally, they only respond to elected officials,” she said.

NeSmith explained that the committee also sought guidance from several legal sources, but received recommendations for both certification and de-certification.

“Members of the committee went to several different attorneys and we came together and compared notes,” she said. “Our impression was that these attorneys who had been at this for a long time and are very knowledgeable couldn’t give us a cut-and-dry answer based on South Carolina law. My guess is there isn’t any cut-and-dry answer.”

Due to the contrasting opinions, NeSmith noted that the decision may ultimately be decided through a court case in the state.

“We would be hesitant to make this decision except that we are cognizant of the fact that the courts are available to those who may disagree with our decision,” she said.

If Tucker would have been ruled ineligible by the KCDP after the Supreme Court’s ruling, he could have run as a petition candidate for District 2 during the November election.

Fellow county council candidates Willie Mickle and Barbara Swindall were ultimately left to run as petition candidates in District 1 after the Kershaw County Republican Party reacted to the court’s decision and ruled them ineligible for the June primary.

Since Mickle and Swindall were non-incumbents, neither of them had a 2011 SEI form on file.

After being certified, Tucker is set to run unopposed in the general election, which will be held Nov. 6. 

A phone call to Tucker seeking comment was not returned by press time.

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