Long before Jake Knotts became a State Senator, he was doing detective work to track down criminals for the City of Columbia Police Department. Now, as a member of the General Assembly, the ex-cop has occasion to put his skills as an investigator to work from time to time.
Over the last few months, Knotts has been tracking a governmental paper trail which is now raising some serious questions about Governor Mark Sanford, and his continual, very-public battle with the legislature.
Since the beginning of his political career, Sanford has played the role of uncompromising outsider battling the status quo. As a member of Congress, he relished those issues on which he could be on the losing side of a lop-sided roll-call, often being one of only five or six congressman to vote “no” against more than 400 voting “yes”. At least once, he was the lone dissenter against every other member of Congress, which he believed proved his political courage. While his posturing made him popular politically, it also made him irrelevant as a member of Congress: He readily admits accomplishing nothing during his six years representing South Carolina’s First District.
As Governor, Sanford has continued his “anti-government” approach to government, picking fights with his own legislature so he could continue to claim to be an outsider. His posturing has kept him politically popular, but has made him ineffective as governor. The State of South Carolina had the largest government spending increases in history during Sanford’s years as governor, a fact he blames on the legislature. Never mind the fact that HE is the elected leader of the state, and should be its most powerful official. He is the one person who could have prevented the budget increases if he were anywhere near as effective as former Governors Campbell, Beasley, Hodges, Riley, or Edwards… each of whom found ways to make a difference for the state without the gubernatorial powers or partisan advantages enjoyed by Sanford.
In recent months, Sanford’s feud with the legislature has led his office to develop a “hit list” of legislators marked for defeat at the hands of his allies. The governor announced a special political fund-raising organization – called ReformSC – which is soliciting contributions to use in campaigns to defeat those targeted members. And Sanford’s political allies have already begun an orchestrated effort to damage the reputations of those named on the “hit list”.
And, a couple of months ago, they “fired a shot” at Senator Jake Knotts.
But they missed.
Allies of Governor Mark Sanford published an untrue rumor targeting Knotts on an Internet website read by many political insiders, citing only anonymous sources as the basis of the rumor. It was an outrageous rumor, designed to damage Knotts politically.
Shooting at a cop is always a bad idea, even if the cop has been retired for more than a decade, and the “shot” is only an Internet rumor.
Knotts’ detective instincts took over, and he immediately started asking questions. He found the individual who owned the libelous website, and quickly determined the source of the rumor. And he kept asking questions.
What Knotts found is a network of people who appear to do Sanford’s dirty work… and a hidden paper trail of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars which is being used to finance the dirty deeds.
The central figure in the network may be Chris Drummond, a former news reporter in Charleston who also served as Sanford's chief spokesman for the first few years of his administration. Drummond left the Governor’s office to enter into private business, but apparently did not cut his ties to Sanford.
It was Drummond who anonymously fed the libelous smear about Knotts to the website which published it, according to the website’s owner, who also said Drummond had been using private investigators to try to “dig up dirt” against legislators..
But why would the Governor’s ex-employee spread untrue information about one of the Governor’s fellow Republicans, Knotts wanted to know.
The answer was easy to guess: Drummond was being PAID to try to smear certain Republican legislators. The 2008 campaign attacks had already secretly begun, and Drummond was being paid to discredit the names on Sanford’s “hit list”.
Sanford, of course, is far too smart to get caught paying people to do his dirty work. That’s why there are a number of new political “organizations” which have been formed in South Carolina during the years Sanford has been Governor. In addition to the newly formed ReformSC, there are groups named South Carolinians for Responsible Government, CIO, Club for Growth… all with close ties to Sanford. It is these groups which funnel money to try to defeat candidates who oppose Sanford’s positions on issues. But the money can never be traced directly back to Sanford.
As Knotts went searching for payments which Sanford or his allies might have directed to Drummond, he came across three stunning discoveries.
First, he discovered that when South Carolina hosted the National Governors Conference in 2006, Drummond received $27,000 from the funds used to pay for the event.
Next, he discovered that part of the $1.2 million used to pay for the conference for 50 state governors was actually taxpayer’s money: $150,000, to be exact, which Sanford obtained through the Competitive Grant fund of the State Budget & Control Board. Ironically, Sanford has repeatedly criticized the Legislature for the existence of this fund, calling it “pork”.
Most stunning of all is this: Knotts discovered that, after the conference was over and all the bills were paid, there was $101,524.14 left over. Did that money come back to the taxpayers? NO! Instead, Sanford’s office quietly directed that the entire balance be given to a Charleston-based group called “Carolinians for Reform, Inc.”… a group which was not even registered with the Secretary of State’s office until after Knotts started asking questions (on October 2nd, two months after they received the check in August!)
Little is known about the “Carolinians for Reform” which took $101,524.14 that should have come back to the taxpayers. Is it related to the “ReformSC” political group for which Sanford is raising money? Is it a political group? Are Drummond or others being paid from this group to do more of Sanford’s dirty work? Because non-profit corporations are not required to disclose recipients of funds, we may never know.
The only information required to be made public about the group are the names of at least three members of a Board of Directors. Interestingly, all three of the names – James K. Kuyk, Frank Zanin, and Tim Reese – can also be found listed as large donors to the Sanford for Governor Campaign.
Knotts has collected a file folder full of copies of checks, documents and correspondence which raise serious questions that deserve in-depth answers. Emails from Sanford’s staff directed the funds to the little-known group without any further explanation of why.
As an ex-cop, Knotts is accustomed to collecting evidence which is eventually used to make a case against the bad guys. In this case, Knotts is planning to turn over his findings to a Senate committee to determine whether any action is warranted.
But, action or not, Knotts has done his state a service by uncovering an questionable practice of which the public was unaware. With election year coming, the public deserves to know what kind of hidden political operations our governor is really up to.
Rod Shealy, Sr. is Publisher of The Lake Murray News and four other weekly newspapers. Additionally, he serves as an advisor to a number of political candidates and officeholders, including Senator Knotts. His column appears each week, and is intended to reflect only his personal views, not necessarily the views of the newspaper. All readers are always welcome to submit other viewpoints, which are published on a space-avialalbe basis.