Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bill to Clarify Funding of South Carolina Presidential Primary Passes State House

The South Carolina state House on March 26 unanimously passed HB 4732. The record will show that the legislation does little more than remove references to the 2008 presidential election cycle in the current statute, but the story is slightly more complicated than that.

It was for that cycle -- 2008 -- that South Carolina opted to change its to-that-point traditional practice of state parties directly funding their own delegate selection events and settling the rules (including the scheduling of the primary itself) for conducting the contests. The rules-making function remained with the state parties, but legislation ahead of the 2008 nomination process shifted the funding from the state parties to the South Carolina State Elections Commission (and the counties).1 When 2012 rolled around, the clause in the statute pertaining to the funding of the presidential primary -- specifically the 2008 and only the 2008 primary -- left questions about which governmental entity would fund the election. A disconnect developed between the State Elections Commission and the counties.

This 2014 legislation seeks to clarify that issue. Technically, the state parties collect the filing fees from the candidates and transmit the funds to the State Elections Commission to conduct the election. Any surplus (filing fees minus election expenditure) stays with the state to be used for similar purposes in future elections.

This bill still has to be considered and passed by the South Carolina state Senate and signed by the governor. There seems to be broad support, however. In any event, this discrepancy did not affect South Carolina's ability to conduct the first in the South primary in 2012 and would not in 2016 even if this legislation dies at some point in the legislative process.

1 Though state parties have the final say on (the conditions for) how they will select delegates to the national convention, when the funding mechanism moves from the state parties to the state government, the state government typically takes on the date-setting function as well. State parties can opt out of that set up and fund their own separate primary or caucuses, but few give up what amounts to "free money". South Carolina is an exception to that rule. When the funding crossed over to state governmental hands, the date-setting role stayed with the parties. That was a very obvious nod to the position the Palmetto state plays in the presidential nomination process; preserving its first in the South status.

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