In South Carolina special election full of characters, donors are just as colorful

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As voters go to the polls in today’s primary contests for a South Carolina special congressional election that has garnered attention for its share of colorful candidates, the donors appear just as just as worthy of a second look.

That’s not just because the donors are, in most cases — the candidates themselves. They also include a diverse range of out-of-staters from infamous dark money man David Koch to comedian Stephen Colbert’s wife, as Sunlight has reported.

In the final days before polls opened, donations continued to pour in. We’re keeping tabs using our Follow the Unlimited Money alert service that sends us emails every time one of the committee’s we’re watching files with the Federal Election Commission.

Most of the late cash has gone to former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who is trying to make the political comeback of a lifetime just two years after departing office in disgrace. Revelations of Sanford’s extra-marital affair with his Argentine lover (now fiance) ended his marriage but not, it now appears, his once-promising political career. By late last month, Sanford was already the dollar frontrunner in the contest to replace Tim Scott, a Republican appointed to the Senate this year. That financial momentum has only continued to build with more late contributors jumping on the frontrunner’s bandwagon.

In the 20-day period before today’s primary, Sanford raked in $80,050 in contributions of $1,000 or more, bringing him to a total of at least $414,447, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Combined, the six leading Republicans and the Democrat most likely to win her primary, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, have raised over $3 million so far in the race.

Sanford and the five Republicans trailing Sanford most closely in a 16-candidate GOP field have blanketed coastal South Carolina viewers with TV ads aiming to out-conservative their opponents. While Sanford’s ads have focused on himself, many of the other candidates have gone negative — in an attempt to at least finish in second place, which would force a runoff with Sanford if he does not win an outright majority. Such ads include a recent one by state Rep. Chip Limehouse, seen below, that smears another colorful candidate in the race, Teddy Turner, a high school economics teacher and son of billionaire CNN-founder Ted Turner. Turner has tried to position himself as an outsider, with his own ad campaign criticizing career politicians.

Among the last minute contributors: Robert H. Dedman, Jr., a Texan who at one time ran one of the largest golf resort companies in the world — before it was sold to a private equity firm in 2006 — and a decade ago was worth over $1 billion. The one-time bundler for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign has only given to two candidates since the former president was on the ballot: Thomas Leppert in his 2012 failed Texas Senate run and Sanford. Dedman also gave to Sanford during his 2006 race for South Carolina governor, according to Sunlight’s Influence Explorer. Last week, Dedman and his wife sent $5,200 to Sanford’s congressional campaigh.

Some curious late out-of-state donors are also helping one of Sanford’s main opponents, state Sen. Larry Grooms, who has raised the second most money of any Republican — at $242,691. He’s gotten help from one Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama man who is currently challenging the overall annual cap on campaign contributions that an individual can give to candidates and party committees. If he is successful in the Supreme Court, he would allow for vastly more spending on elections by wealthy donors. The Center for Public Integrity talked to McCutcheon and has a story about him here.

Grooms has also benefited from a $2,000 check from Lewis Topper, the New York CEO of of Fast Food Systems Inc., who gave $55,000 to the Romney Victory Fund in 2012.

If no candidate wins an outright majority in today’s primary, a runoff will be held April 2. The candidates who make that round would have to file another report detailing their finances through March 13 with the FEC by Thursday.

Meanwhile, in a two-way Democratic primary, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, is also attracting some big last minute money. She got $2,600 from venture capitalist Kenneth Lerer, a co-founder of the Huffington Post who gave $75,800 to the Obama Victory Fund during the 2012 campaign. She also got a late $1,000 check from lobbyist Jamie Harrison of Washington D.C.’s Podesta Group, whose clients include Merck, GM and the University of South Carolina. Money also flowed to Colbert Busch from former Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat who advises lobbyists at DLA Piper, as well as Daschle’s wife, Linda, also a lobbyist.

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