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Politics: Money rolls in, gloves come off as District 108 election nears

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The race between Republican incumbent Stephen Goldfinch and Democratic challenger Vida Miller is shaping up as the most expensive and hardest-fought race ever in state House District 108.

Miller said she had the best fundraising quarter in district history, collecting $44,683 from 220 contributors from July through Oct. 15, the final day covered by the pre-election filing report. Goldfinch reported $31,265 from 104 contributors in an amended report filed Oct. 20 that added five donations totaling $4,750. Figures came from the South Carolina Ethics Commission’s online database.

“She’s raised more money than I thought she could,” county Democratic Party chairman Michael Carter told Miller supporters in Murrells Inlet Tuesday, “although it’s less money than they say she needs.”

The influx of cash could mean more contentious back-and-forth between the two camps over the final two weeks of the campaign. County Republican Party chairman Randy Hollister called it “one ugly race” Monday at the meeting of the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club.

Miller is reporting $49,320 cash on hand, compared to Goldfinch’s $36,949, according to the ethics commission.

Goldfinch accused Miller of “fuzzy math” in her filing. “It only takes a quick glance at the ethics report she filed to conclude that she’s back to her old tricks of fuzzy math straight out of the Democrat playbook,” he said in a prepared statement. “Everyone who has received her six pieces of misleading mail can look at the report and see that there are no expenditures for those pieces of mail, her signs, her newspaper ads or much of anything else. She is likely hiding the expenses because she’s using out-of state union money to attack and smear my family and me. All one has to do is look at the Teamsters Union icon on her mail to see where her loyalties lie. While I’m disappointed in her tactics, record of ethics violations, and misleading campaigning, I’m not surprised.”

Miller campaign manager Christopher Covert said money translates into support. “Any way you look at it, this is a remarkable show of strength,” he said. “More than 200 Republicans, Democrats and independents have donated to this campaign in the last 90-plus days, and we still have several major fundraisers scheduled over the final two weeks of the race. I have no doubt that this campaign will have all the resources it needs to communicate our message effectively and win this election on Nov. 4.”

Miller began her campaign in August by criticizing Goldfinch for voting for a $12,000 increase for legislators and has continually reminded voters about a federal case involving an employee of his company mislabeling stem sells. As owner of the company, Goldfinch has said he is responsible for the employee’s actions. Miller’s campaign portrays the case as charges that are pending. Goldfinch has said he took responsibility but has not been charged. Each accused the other of misleading voters. “Now that his campaign is getting desperate in the closing days of this race,” Covert said, “he’s trying to say that Vida Miller is the one who’s not being straight with the voters. That’s just sad. And the taxpayers of this district deserve better.”

The group Independents for Goldfinch reported finding on the Internet that Miller received a $1,000 contribution in 2010 from Ron G. Wilson, who was convicted of running a Ponzi scheme and cheating investors of $57 million. Hollister demanded Miller withdraw from the race because the money came from illegal activity and Wilson is a racist and white supremacist, according to a watch list maintained by a group called the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“It’s reprehensible that Vida Miller would take money from and be beholden to a well-known racist, who was in the leadership of hate groups that published materials derogatory to African-Americans and Jews and ultimately brought financial ruin to many South Carolina families as a result of his crime,” Jan Vincent, leader of Independent Voters for Goldfinch said in the GOP news release. “Vida Miller is not fit to be on the ballot. She should be ashamed of herself and immediately end her candidacy and return the money to Ron Wilson’s victims. This is stolen money, infected with racism.”

Wilson, from Easley, has been on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “40 to Watch List” of hate-group members since 2003 for his leadership role in groups seeking a second secession and white rule.

Hollister asked Miller about her connections to Wilson and his Atlantic Bullion and Coin and accused her of deliberately obscuring the donation by abbreviating the name of the company as “ABC, Inc” in her campaign disclosure report. He asked why Miller didn’t return the money to the Ponzi scheme victims when the fraud was discovered in 2012.

Miller said Independents for Goldfinch is a front group for her opponent and produced documents showing she was one of Wilson’s many victims.

“This is truly outrageous,” Miller said. “Like almost a thousand other investors around the country, I was a victim of Ron G. Wilson’s $60 million Ponzi scheme. Today, thankfully, Mr. Wilson is serving a long prison term for that crime. And with the help of the Justice Department and the South Carolina Attorney General’s office, I hope to someday recover some portion of the tens of thousands of dollars Wilson stole from me. As for the campaign check in question, I have never spent that thousand dollars and never will. But I honestly have no idea how to return a check to a man who’s sitting in prison for stealing from me. Who am I supposed to send it to — the people who handle his prison commissary account? Mr. Goldfinch and his allies should be ashamed of launching this irresponsible attack.”

Hollister fired off a suggestion to Miller Wednesday: “The court-appointed receiver trying to collect all available assets from Atlantic Bullion & Coin to return to the Ponzi scheme victims is Beattie B. Ashmore. “This is the same person processing the claims of the Ponzi scheme victims,” Hollister said. “Vida says she is hopeful of recovering some of her lost money through her claim, which she had to file with Mr. Ashmore by the deadline one week ago today.”

Miller said she was surprised by the allegation that she somehow knew that Wilson was on a racist watch list. “With all due respect to the Southern Poverty Law Center, I’d guess that I’m not the only person who can’t name a single individual on their watch list,” Miller said.

Covert said Goldfinch is feeling the heat. “This was an outrageous attack by a desperate campaign that’s running out of money, running out of hope, and running out of time,” he said. “The voters of this district are smart, and they know the difference between a candidate who has been the victim of a crime and a candidate who has been charged with committing a crime and is currently facing up to a year in prison for that offense. And no amount of ridiculous nonsense from Mr. Goldfinch is going to change those facts.”

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