Campaign contributions spark feud in Myrtle Beach

A flap over campaign contributions in the Myrtle Beach city council race has sparked a feud over what's ethical and what isn't.

A local business group is accusing the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce of being the source behind a series of campaign contributions to incumbent Myrtle Beach candidates. That group isn't saying outright that they're illegal, but they are suggesting the money may have come from the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, an accusation the chamber denies.

At issue, 24 campaign contributions of $1,000 each to Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes and all the incumbent city council candidates. Leaders of BOOST, Business Owners Organized to Save Tourism, claim the donations were somehow funneled through the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

Current chairman Brant Branham organized the group and many of the names on the list are former chamber board members, including former chairman Robert Guyton. BOOST president Robert Kelly says, that may not be illegal, but it doesn't make it right.

"A lot of these things pointed back to the chamber. Now like I said, that may not be illegal. It may not be against the ethics laws, but we at least believe it deserves answers, it deserves to be looked at," said Kelly.

Kelly points out that several LLC's on the list share the same address and one of them, Palmetto Advocacy Consultants, is run by the chamber's chief financial officer, Darren Gore. Chamber Chairman Branham says Gore's consulting firm is totally separate from the chamber and the other LLC's just represent companies and individuals who are pro-business and tourism.

"There was no money of the chamber's redirected, funneled or whatever word you want to use through these LLC's. This was money that these LLC's and individuals, business men and women wanted to give to these candidates," Branham said.

Rhodes says all campaigns need money and his is no different. He says all the LLC's on the list are legitimate firms.

"The companies are bonafide companies registered in the state of South Carolina. How are you able to dispute that? you can't," said Rhodes.

Rhodes' opponent, former mayor Mark McBride, says the contributions are improper, and whether they're legal is yet to be determined.

"There was a number of corporations and depending on how those checks were written, and how the money got into those corporations to write checks, those are legal issues. This will probably have to take a law enforcement investigation to find out," said McBride.

So where do these accusations go from here? Kelly, the leader of BOOST, says he's "talked to different people", though he wouldn't say who. McBride says he's just waiting to see where this goes and who runs for cover.

The State Ethics Commission tells NewsChannel 15 they are not investigating.