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Nearly $2 million in last-minute campaign spending by outside groups has poured into a Republican primary race for a U.S. House seat from South Carolina, according to Federal Election Commission reports reviewed by Bloomberg BNA.
Tommy Pope and Ralph Norman, two rival GOP candidates who have served in the state legislature, were nearly tied in the preliminary round of the congressional primary held earlier this month. The winner of their runoff being held May 16 is set to face Democrat Archie Parnell in a general election June 20.
That special election will decide who takes the seat of Mick Mulvaney, a Republican who left Congress to become President Trump’s budget director.
Most of the outside campaign spending in the Republican runoff has come in the last two weeks from trade associations, nonprofit groups and others lining up behind the rival GOP candidates. Much of the money has come from groups that don’t disclose their donors, making it more difficult to trace the original sources and their motivations.
For example, one organization that has spent nearly $400,000 on ads supporting Pope, called CLA Inc., has never previously filed campaign finance reports with the FEC.
The background of CLA Inc. is unclear, but its FEC filings were signed by a veteran Washington lobbyist, Marc Himmelstein, who heads a firm called National Environmental Strategies and lobbies mainly for energy companies. Himmelstein couldn’t be reached immediately by BNA for comment.
In addition, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business association, spent $250,000 on ads backing Pope, who is viewed as the more moderate Republican in the race.
The leading backer of Norman is Club for Growth, a conservative group. Norman is viewed as the more conservative candidate and has received backing from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R).
The nonprofit arm of the Club for Growth, along with an affiliated super PAC, Club for Growth Action, which does disclose donors, have poured nearly $800,000 into the South Carolina runoff race.
After the Republican runoff is decided, it remains unclear how much outside campaign spending will gravitate to South Carolina for an upcoming general election race.
Parnell, the Democratic nominee, is a tax attorney who worked as a staffer for the House Ways and Means Committee in the 1970s. The novice candidate finished far ahead in his party’s preliminary primary last month, and he didn’t have to face a runoff. But, party committees and Democratic-leaning groups haven’t yet indicated whether they will put money into Parnell’s campaign against whoever wins the Republican nomination in a congressional district that historically leans toward the GOP.
Large amounts of campaign money already are being spent in other races, including special election contests in Montana and Georgia. Democrats are hoping to take one or both of these contested House seats from Republicans, while GOP leaders are fighting hard to hold onto them. The Montana election is set for May 25. The Georgia race is set to be decided June 20, the same day as the general election in South Carolina.
The Georgia special election race, which pits Democrat Jon Ossoff against Republican Karen Handel, already has seen more than $20 million in campaign spending by the candidates, super PACs and other outside groups, as well as Republican and Democratic Party committees. More than a month before the election, the race for the suburban Atlanta congressional district already is widely seen as certain to be the most expensive U.S. House race in history.
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