A mysterious group with national ties has mounted a last-minute advertising campaign against Hilton Head Island mayoral candidate Joe DuBois, leaving some to wonder why the group wants to influence a local election.
Some Hilton Head residents received mailers this weekend that attacked DuBois, a 36-year-old attorney, for what the group calls his inexperience and lack of interest in holding office. DuBois was perhaps best known before the mayoral race for his legal representation of timeshare owners in more than 40 lawsuits against local company Coral Resorts.
The ads called DuBois "not serious," "unreliable," and "irresponsible" and asked voters to "Say NO to Joe DuBois." It is not known how many were mailed, but residents in Sea Pines, Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Plantation, Spanish Wells, Palmetto Dunes and Port Royal Plantation said they received them. Scott Stamp, owner of Hilton Head-based Coastal Marketing Services, estimated one mailer costs 75 cents to 95 cents.
Incumbent Drew Laughlin and challengers David Bennett, Cork James and Rochelle Williams said the ads did not come from their campaigns and denied knowing about the group that paid for them.
That group is listed on the mailings as Americans for Economic Growth. An organization with the same name was part of a political fundraising money-laundering scheme in the early 2000s that involved former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, according to The Washington Post.
The organization was registered in Cary, N.C., but has since dissolved, according to the N.C. Secretary of State's Office. It lists a Washington, D.C.-based post office box on the mailer.
Otherwise, little is known about the group.
A campaign-finance expert said Monday that groups such as Americans for Economic Growth time their advertising to ensure that no voter will know who is paying for it until after the election.
"There are a lot of ways that these organizations can do this type of mailing without having to report," said Larry Noble, former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission and an attorney for the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center.
"It's not uncommon these days, unfortunately, that groups that you don't know anything about are putting up ads, especially near an election."
Hilton Head candidates on Monday denounced the ads, calling them too extreme for a nonpartisan, municipal election.
"I don't think that's what people on Hilton Head are about," said Laughlin, 62. "I don't think people want to see this play out like those negative commercials in Georgia."
Bennett, 48, questioned why a national group would spend money on a Hilton Head race: "I can't fathom why anyone from D.C. would have anything to do with us."
DuBois said the mailing "further illustrates what appears to be outside interests trying to sway this election."
The candidates spoke after a forum at Aunt Chiladas Easy Street Cafe hosted by the Hilton Head Island 1st Monday Republican Lunch Group.
About 85 people gathered to hear a flurry of campaign speeches.
Laughlin promised experience; Bennett touted his vision for the island; DuBois called for transparency; Williams swore to do more for native islanders; and James said he would stop all development.
Along with the Hilton Head mayoral race, voters Tuesday will decide on a Beaufort County Council candidate and three Hilton Head Public Service District contests.
Incumbent County Councilman Rick Caporale, a Hilton Head Republican, will defend his District 8 seat against Colleton River Plantation resident and write-in candidate Lynn King. District 8 includes Hilton Head Plantation, Jenkins Island and the Belfair, Crescent, Colleton River and Moss Creek gated communities along U.S. 278 in greater Bluffton.
The public service district races are: incumbent Herbert Ford against Gerald J. Fahringer in District 1; incumbent Robert Gentzler against Patricia Flynn Soltys in District 3; incumbent Frank Drehwing against Frank Simon in District 4.
Voters visiting the polls in the morning can expect temperatures in the mid-50s. The weather will warm, with highs in the low 70s and no chance of rain.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.