Michael Luppe, an executive committeeman of the Darlington County GOP, said Monday that he will challenge Richard Eckstrom in the Republican primary for S.C. comptroller general.
Eckstrom, a former state treasurer from Lexington County, has held the seat since winning the 2002 election.
Luppe, who works as a buyer for a Florence manufacturer, has never run for political office before but worked on the campaigns of Hartsville Mayor Mel Pennington and U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach. He also runs a chess school.
The comptroller general is the state’s accountant. Luppe is not an accountant, which Eckstrom is, but said his experience as an economics major encompasses accounting.
Luppe, 37, said Eckstrom has filed financial reports late and not helped ease the roughly $15 billion deficit in the state worker pension fund. The S.C. Ethics Commission also is investigating Eckstrom for possible misuse of campaign money.
“This incumbent has broken our trust,” Luppe said. “I’m a businessman who works in the private sector. If I fail to meet a deadline, I would be shown the door.”
Eckstrom, 65, said comprehensive annual financial reports have been late because state agencies still are adjusting to a new computer reporting system.
“This is not a political office. It’s a technical office,” Eckstrom said. “It requires someone with an accounting background because of the demands on it dealing with all these state agencies.”
The office needs that financial experience, he added, because the comptroller general is part of the Budget and Control Board headed by the governor that approves bonds and large public construction projects.
Eckstrom said the budget board needs to work more aggressively on reducing the deficit in state workers’ pension and health plans. “I think state officials are coming to an awareness with this.”
The comptroller general also said he wants to build back some of the staff cut during the economic downturn. Agency employees have dropped from more than 100 to about 30.
Luppe said he also wants to work more closely with the state treasurer on improving the state pension system’s earnings and lowering its investment fees.
Eckstrom said the comptroller general’s office does not have a contractual role in state investments. That is the responsibility of a separate state commission.
Eckstrom said the ethics allegation – that he used campaign cash to join his girlfriend at last year’s Republican National Convention – does not involve state money. He said he is not clear how he broke the rules and is awaiting an ethics commission hearing.
Luppe and Eckstrom would meet in the June primary. No Democrats have announced for the seat, which pays $92,000 a year.