Friction between members of the Dorchester County Republican Party has many questioning the party's candidate filing procedures. Some even have claimed that the elections officer "fixed" paperwork so it would appear to have been filed correctly to keep every candidate on the ballot.
Dorchester County had only one Republican, S.C. House candidate John Mondo, become decertified. No others got swept up in May and June's S.C. Supreme Court rulings, which said candidates must have filed their Statements of Intention of Candidacy at the same time as their Statements of Economic Interests when filing in person. The county's relatively clean record in a state that saw nearly 250 non-incumbent candidates decertified has drawn scrutiny from the state, the Dorchester County Democratic Party and now its own membership.
During the regularly scheduled executive committee meeting of the party, 7 p.m. Thursday at county council chambers in Summerville, the rift within the Republican party is expected to be addressed, according to one GOP member.
Two sources from within the Dorchester County Republican Party have labeled candidate filings as "suspicious" and "fudged" — a claim party chair and County Council District 5 candidate Carroll Duncan and GOP elections officer Tony Piscatella both refute.
Duncan is running unopposed for the county council seat, which is currently occupied by Richard Rosebrock, who is retiring. She also faced no GOP challenger in the June 12 primary.
Last week, — a request denied by Republicans. That request came on the heels of , which also fell on deaf ears.
Now complaints are arising in the Republican Party.
Neither source, who spoke independently and requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject matter, could provide actual proof of their claims that Duncan or Piscatella had "fudged" paperwork, and neither were present during all filings.
"I am certain some people's paperwork are fixed," a source said. "The Dorchester County Republican Party worked very hard to certify all their candidates."
This same source attested to witnessing some non-incumbent candidates filing without a Statement of Economic Interest present.
Asked why the source was coming forward with information, the source replied: "It's not right for the party to run a coverup … it's unfair to other people who got kicked off the ballot in the state."
"The only way the truth will come out is if they're pressured," the source said.
Duncan found herself in the crosshairs early in the wake of the first S.C. Supreme Court ruling in May, which said candidates had to have simultaneously filed their Statements of Intention of Candidacy (SICs) with a paper copy of their Statements of Economic Interests (SEIs). Confusing the situation around the state was a 2010 law that had candidates file their SEIs online with the S.C. Ethics Commission — something not required to be submitted within the candidate filing period, but before a candidate assumes office, according to S.C. Ethics Commission Executive Director Herb Hayden.
The county GOP has said that while Duncan filed her online SEI after her in-person filing, she had all the documents present at the time of filing.
But sources say at the time of the May ruling, Duncan was worried she was off the ballot for several days. Both sources said the fear stemmed from improper paperwork — something solved by tacking on the printed SEI possibly weeks after the SIC filing.
"When the ruling was coming down, we knew in the party they were starting to throw people off the ballots," one source said. "Tony and Carroll were starting to print off a paper copy of the SEI and attach it to their paperwork … Their thought process is 'we did it to the best of our ability, let's not let something stupid stop the campaigns.'"
When asked how this information was obtained, the source said, "They told me."
The source also said candidates were told after the first ruling, "If you have any paperwork that's missing, file it now," weeks after filing date had closed and all had turned in their Statements of Intention of Candidacy.
"It was 'get it fixed.' It wasn't top secret information or anything," the source said.
But that is not what happened, Piscatella said.
According to the elections officer, "dumb luck" saved the Republican candidates in Dorchester County.
Several candidates arrived with the paper copy of the SEI in hand during filing, and those that did not, like Duncan, were asked to print their SEI prior to filing from the headquarters' computer and printer.
Instead of following the checklist distributed by the state party that only required "proof" of SEI online filing (i.e. a printed email confirmation of submittal), Piscatella said he followed the lead of some of the first filers who brought in the entire printed copy and began requiring it for all the other candidates. Piscatella said he went as far as not allowing them to file until all the paperwork was present.
Unlike Lexington County, , Piscatella said he decided to file a paper copy for each candidate as "proof." Shealy was the candidate in question that lead to the first S.C. Supreme Court ruling that decertified her and others in the state.
One of the anonymous sources refuted Piscatella's account, saying that the first two non-incumbent filers, Ed Carter and County Council District 6 candidate Roger Goodman, did not bring in their SEI paperwork.
Duncan filed with the party 1:05 p.m. March 28, according to documents obtained through the Dorchester County Board of Elections and Voter Registration, but did not submit her online SEI until 1 p.m. April 23.
Duncan and Piscatella have both said she filled out her SEI online, saved it and printed it all at the party office on Trolley Road, and then handed it in for filing along with her SIC, in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling — which was still weeks away from throwing the 2012 S.C. Primary into turmoil. She later hit "submit," when the Ethics Commission notified her she had not already done so, Piscatella said.
In January, . At the time of her March 28 filing, she was still on crutches, and did not attend any other filings, Piscatella said.
Duncan was asked June 20 to recount, step-by-step, her filing process. Replying via email, she wrote, ", I do not feel it is appropriate to comment at this time."
When asked in a follow-up email to respond to the claim her SEI was not filed correctly, she emailed this statement: "My paper copy of the SEI was filed at the same time as the SIC with the same party official in accordance with the S.C. Supreme Court ruling."
Duncan was also asked why sources said she feared her campaign was in danger of decertification, but she did not respond.
According to sources, the only way to prove that the paperwork was done incorrectly is if the time-stamp of the printed SEI is after filing time and date. However, one source added, that printed date — if printed prior to filing — cannot prove innocence since the document still could have been attached later.
A request by Patch to review the filing paperwork of all Dorchester County GOP candidates has been denied, and the S.C. Ethics Commission cannot review "save" times, according to that office's response to a Patch Freedom of Information Act request.
The recent, firsthand information brought forward by anonymous sources brings a new dimension to the question of paperwork in Dorchester County, which until now has only had Democrats claiming improper filing among the Republicans and no accounts from inside party headquarters.
Piscatella, weary of fielding questions and cognizant of a possible lawsuit from the Democrats, bristled when asked about both Democrats and Republicans crying foul.
"How the hell do you know what I did or didn't do? You weren't there," he said of those making accusations.
Piscatella added he does not fear any subpoenas if the Democratic lawsuit is ever filed.
"Once they go through discovery, they will come back to my records .... and they'll say stop there," Piscatella said.
Non-Incumbent Candidate Filing and SEI Submission TimesCandidate Filing date/time SEI online submission date/time Sean Bennett 3/20/2012 11:43 a.m. 3/19/2012 2:08 p.m. Jordan Bryngelson 3/28/2012 11:27 a.m. 3/28/2012 10:13 a.m. Ed Carter 3/16/2012 12:16 p.m. 3/13/2012 2:45 p.m. Carroll Duncan 3/28/2012 1:05 p.m. 4/23/2012 1:00 p.m. Roger Goodman 3/16/2012 12:13 p.m. 3/12/2012 12:19 p.m. John Hull 3/28/2012 11:23 a.m. 3/28/2012 11:07 p.m. Mike Turner 3/28/2012 9:17 a.m. 3/25/2012 7:25 p.m.
Candidate filing date with party obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request to Dorchester County Board of Elections and Voter Registration, and SEI online submission date obtained through their online public disclosure system.