While the Republican establishment has deserted former Gov. Mark Sanford in his bid for South Carolina’s first district, a dedicated few are still giving thousands to his campaign at the 11th hour. Even with these last minute gifts, however, his Democratic opponent Elizabeth Colbert Busch is still raking in double the cash in the days leading up to the special election on May 7.
According to FEC reports covering April 18 to April 23, Sanford's campaign has received $40,600 in contributions while Colbert Busch has raised $85,400. Per FEC rules, candidates must disclose donations of $1,000 or more within two days of receiving them. And while the campaigns have disclosed some donations made in the last five days, the public doesn't yet know who donated throughout early April [update: both committees have filed]. Each candidate is set to file pre-general election finance reports today, which will include all contributions from the last day of February through April 17.
Among the few donors to the embattled Sanford campaign disclosed this week were Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose leadership committee Country First PAC gave $2,500. Soon after, the political arm of Boeing — one of the biggest job providers in South Carolina's first district, and a company each candidate claimed to support more — doled out $5,000 to Sanford. Richard Chilton, a billionaire headge fund manager, and his wife combined to give $5,200. Chilton contributed thousands to Sanford's gubernatorial runs in the 2000s and the two are longtime friends.
Another $5,000 gift came from MeadWestvaco Corp.'s PAC, a packaging company with facilities within the district. The company has a history with Sanford: While he was governor in 2004, Sanford brokered a land deal between the Palmetto State and the company which netted it almost $50 million, some $32 million of which came in federal funds secured by then-Sen. Fritz Hollings, a Democrat.
The chairman of MeadWestvaco, John A. Luke, Jr. also gave Sanford $2,600 earlier in March.
One FEC report originally indicated a $5,200 donation by the conservative group Club for Growth, which had pledged against supporting Sanford. A spokesman from the organization told the Sunlight Foundation this was a filing error and the report has since been amended to exclude the donation.
All of these contributions came in after the news that Sanford allegedly trespassed on his ex-wife's property to watch the Super Bowl with his son, the last straw for many prominent GOP groups like the National Republican Campaign Committee. The first district skews heavily Republican, and the race was seen as a relatively easy victory for the GOP. But the latest poll from Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning outlet, showed a 9 point lead for Democrat Colbert Busch — signifying a suddenly uphill battle for Sanford.
And if Sanford is hoping for outside help from independent expenditure groups, it appears he's out of luck. Only one group has so far supported him — the National Right to Life committee, which sent out two waves of mailings costing a little less than $6,000. Colbert Busch, on the other hand, benefitted from more than $300,000 in independent expenditures by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Majority PAC and VoteVets.org.
If Sanford does manage to claw his way to victory on May 7, he'll have a plethora of business tycoons, real estate mavens and financial titans to thank. In the run up to his victory in the Republican primary, contributions flowed in from Lending Tree CEO Douglas Lebda ($2,600); sugar company Dixie Crystals' chairmain W.W. Sprague ($1,000); make-up maven and GOP advocate Georgette Mosbacher ($1,000); Libertarian real estate developer Howard Rich and his wife ($5,200); and noted conservative businessman (as well as failed political candidate) Paul Jost and his wife ($5,200). Jost, who is also the chairman of the Virginia chapter of the Club for Growth, remained steadfast in his support of Sanford — he bucked the national Club For Growth's decision not to back Sanford and again contributed $5,200 with his wife, this time in mid-April.
Sanford is still trying to right the ship, however, releasing an ad that ties Colbert Busch to "Big Labor," as unions are a major contributor to her campaign. He also ran a full page, 1,200-word ad in the Charleston Post and Courier appealing to voters and explaining his side of the trespassing incident. Sanford is set to appear in court on May 9, two days after the special general election.