No matter which candidate Town of Hilton Head Island voters supported in Tuesday's mayoral race, all should be concerned about an unfair attack on candidate Joe DuBois. In the final days of the race, a mysterious group blasted out hundreds of mailers to residents in Sea Pines, Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Plantation, Spanish Wells, Palmetto Dunes, Port Royal Plantation and possibly other communities, attacking DuBois.
The slick fliers, which are estimated to cost as much as 95 cents each, criticized DuBois for what it called his inexperience and lack of interest in holding office.
Unlike most election mailers that clearly list a legitimate organization that paid for the mailer along with accurate contact information, this one did not. It simply claimed to have come from Americans for Economic Growth. The only group on record with that name is a dissolved organization with ties to former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas. The address on the mailer is a post office box in Washington, D.C.
The only thing that is clear is that the people behind the mailer are doing all that they can to remain in the shadows. The sources are taking advantage of a 2010 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that threw out the state's definition of a political ''committee" and most of the state's rules on campaign spending. That has allowed secret groups, funded by unknown donors with unknown agendas, to wade into races for the past four years, spending unlimited amounts of money raised from unknown donors.
The result: Our current anything-goes political financing laws.
This isn't the first time a S.C. candidate has faced criticism from an unknown source for unknown reasons. In 2010, secret groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in mailers as well as TV and radio ads to oust a handful of S.C. State House leaders, including Sens. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, and Wes Hayes, R-York, chairmen of the Senate Judiciary and the Ethics committees, respectively.
Both men won re-election and said they would work to rewrite the state definition for "committee" and close the loophole that allows the groups to operate.
But like so many other ethics-related changes that would increase transparency, the change has yet to gain approval.
DuBois' three mayoral competitors have all said they did not send out the mailer and do not know who did. And because of another S.C. loophole, there's no way to independently verify that at this time. In South Carolina, candidates must file final pre-election reports with the state as of 20 days before the actual election. So candidates who want to accept donations from groups that may turn off voters -- or groups wanting to keep their donations quiet -- wait until that blackout period to make their move. It is not until after the election that these donations are disclosed.
Several ethics bills have included shrinking the blackout period by requiring online filing in the final days before elections. But like every other worthwhile ethics reform, it has yet to pass legislative muster.
Until state lawmakers get serious about ethics reform, S.C. voters must be the ones to say no -- no to attack ads, no to secret groups and no to mystery donors who secretly finance these organizations.
Voters can do so by putting these and other attack pieces where they belong -- in the trash can.