Background to the Carolina Scandal:
Will Folks, Jake Knotts and the ‘Hit List’; UPDATE: Who Is Rod Shealy?
Posted on | May 28, 2010 | 34 Comments
In August 2007, according to the (Columbia S.C.) Free Times, former Mark Sanford staffer Will Folks had an unscheduled meeting with Gov. Sanford in which Folks reportedly proposed a “hit list” to defeat a number of incumbent legislators in the 2008 elections. According to the Free Times, the “hit list” memo that Folks subsequently developed named 27 Republicans and four Democrats who would be targeted for defeat in the 2008 primaries.
This appears to be directly related to the Folks-Haley saga, because one of the targeted legislators was Republican State Sen. Jake Knotts:
Regardless of the importance of this particular proposal and its hard-to-prove links to the governor’s office, one thing is clear — some legislators believe they are being targeted, and they believe the governor is either directly or indirectly involved.
Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, is a former narcotics investigator and a targeted member of the General Assembly who didn’t need any reporter to tell him his name was on a hit list. He already knew he was being investigated by members of pro-Sanford groups.
Earlier this year when Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, first heard about groups possibly investigating Knotts, he was overheard saying in a meeting in a public place, “You don’t investigate an investigator.”
He was right.
Knotts’ own investigations of the governor have led to front-page stories in The State newspaper in past weeks. Knotts, who says Sanford is using numerous political action committees and nonprofits as slush funds, has already once caught him with his hand in the moneybag. In November, Sanford gave back $101,524.14, money that had been left over from a grant that went to pay for a National Governors Association convention in Charleston, and was given to a group called Carolinians for Reform. In response to having to refund the money, Sanford said in a Nov. 20 Associated Press story that he thought moving the cash to the organization made “complete sense.”
Republicans in South Carolina say that Knotts hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on Folks, and Folks told WSPA-TV “he was confronted in early 2009 with a photograph of himself and Haley in what he describes as ‘a compromising position.’ . . . He says the photo was taken by a private investigator who was hired to dig up dirt on him.”
Of course, there may have been a lot of people, not just those on the “Hit List,” who had motives to investigate Folks, but I’m told that South Carolina Republicans know that Knotts hired a detective. It can’t be known if this “compromising” photo was taken by that investigator and, in point of fact, for all we know Folks may be making the whole thing up.
What this reveals is the complex Web of political forces involved in this scandal. Sanford was Folks’ original political connection. By his own account, Folks was playing bass in a “moderately successful” alternative rock band when he was “plucked out of mid-air” as spokesman for Sanford’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign. After several controversies, Folks resigned as Sanford’s communications director in July 2005 and, in August 2005, pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges.
The “hit list” proposal shows that Folks was still able to use his Sanford connection two years after leaving the governor’s staff, but the exposure of the list naming Knotts put both Sanford and Folks squarely in Knott’s crosshairs and, as Glenn McConnell said, “You don’t investigate an investigator.”
Now, fast-forward to Erick Erickson’s story at Red State today:
A campaign consultant for one of the campaigns for Governor of South Carolina began approaching groups [in spring 2009] that were viewed as likely to be influenced by Governor Mark Sanford. Why? Because South Carolina politicos knew Rep. Nikki Haley was viewed as Sanford’s choice to replace him.
This campaign consultant began informing groups that a blogger named Will Folks was peddling a story that he had a relationship with Rep. Haley.
Multiple sources in South Carolina confirm that the political consultant in question denied his campaign would be responsible when the story came out, but the consultant was also adamant that if Haley was in the lead before the primary, Folks would drop the story.
OK, so whose campaign was pushing this story? Folks has hinted that it was Gresham Barrett’s supporters, including Wes Donehue and B.J. Boling. But if Knotts was the guy whose detective got the (alleged) “compromising” photo — as is “pretty widely known” among South Carolina Republicans, one source told me — the most likely gubernatorial campaign to be pushing this story would be . . .?
Andre Bauer, an ally of Knotts. However, Bauer yesterday told South Carolina Radio Network, “I heard that rumor for over a year, but we did not have a thing to do with it.”
Plausible deniably? If Knotts was trying to take down Haley to benefit Bauer, it’s possible that Bauer himself wouldn’t have been informed of it. (Remember that Nixon didn’t know about the “Plumbers” plan to break into DNC headquarters at the Watergate Hotel until after the burglars had been arrested.)
Nobody knows exactly what Folks’ motives are, but there is something extraordinarily fishy about his own explanation of his decision to “admit” the alleged affair on Monday. Folks himself was the primary source of the affair rumor, and is also the primary source about the alleged “compromising” photo.
Folks has written the script of this drama, putting himself at center stage, and that may be his only motive — to make himself the star of the show. But reporters in Carolina should be asking Jake Knotts if he had anything to do with this sleazy attempt to take down Nikki Haley.
And, just to show you how sleazy GOP politics can get, last fall, Andre Bauer was forced to deny rumors that he is gay — rumors that were blamed on Mark Sanford.
One final point: The GOP primary is June 8 and if no candidate gets 50% of the vote — as is likely, with multiple candidates — there would be a runoff June 22. And Bauer is reportedly now in second place.
UPDATE: Dan Riehl doesn’t like the way Erick Erickson is handling this. In Erick’s defense, Red State endorsed Nikki Haley early and is therefore “invested” in the success of her campaign. So out of the clear blue sky on Monday, Folks drops this sex rumor, putting a burden on Haley’s supporters — including Erick — to attempt to disprove the rumor or, in other words, to prove a negative.
As I’ve said, I don’t care who wins a gubernatorial primary in South Carolina and frankly don’t care whether or not the rumor is true, but there’s got to be a limit to this kind of sleazy tactics. Nikki Haley may win, or she may lose, but she shouldn’t be defeated by mere gossip.
Erickson and other Haley supporters are in a very difficult position trying to beat this Folks rumor, and have my sympathy.
UPDATE II: Erick Erickson pulls the trigger:
The consultant who last year was telling people about Will Folks’ story worked or works for Andre Bauer. Bauer himself admitted this week he has known about the rumor for a year.
In 2006, Rod Shealy hired Will Folks to do something called “counter-negative consulting services” for Andre Bauer and a couple of other campaigns.
Sometime after 2006, Will Folks turned decidedly hostile toward Andre Bauer. He was very much part of the Sanford reform crowd that included Nikki Haley. Starting in June of 2009, around the time Bauer’s consultant is pushing out the Will Folks story, Folks starts to change his tune on Bauer.
About the same time last year, another blogger notes this: “Bauer seems to have cut some kind of deal with blogger Bill Folks.”
Three days before the Palin endorsement, Folks is singing the Bauer campaign’s praises. By the way, I was told though know of no public polling from that time, that internals showed Haley was already starting to track upward before Palin’s endorsement, which just sealed the deal and added momentum. Andre Bauer is pushed from second place to third place, cutting him out of a runoff . . .
UPDATE III: Rod Shealy has been called “South Carolina’s shrewdest political consultant,” and he knows a thing or two about dirty tricks:
“Shealy is diabolically clever and a master of dirty tricks, but very effective,” Will Folks, a political consultant and blogger who has worked with and against Shealy, told me.
Shealy gained a bit of national notoriety in 1990, when he was running the campaign of his sister, Sherry Martschink, a candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Shealy was looking to increase the turnout of racially conservative low-country voters, a group largely sympathetic to Martschink, in the overall Republican primary. To do so, he recruited Benjamin Hunt, Jr., an unemployed black fisherman, to run for congress in the Republican primary against incumbent Arthur Ravenel, Jr., even paying Hunt’s filing fee. When the ploy was revealed, Shealy was convicted and fined for violating campaign laws.
UPDATE IV: Sources are now contacting me with accusations against Will Folks that could be very damaging. I’m now attempting to check out those accusations. Meanwhile, there are increased suspicions about the role of former Bauer consultant Chris LaCivita in the Folks scandal. Here is a very interesting item FITSNews reported in March:
S.C. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer has parted ways with his top gubernatorial campaign consultant and replaced him with a controversial GOP activist from Tennessee.
Chris LaCivita – who gained fame during the 2004 presidential election by running the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign – is no longer affiliated with Bauer’s campaign team. Instead, the lieutenant governor has turned to former Tennessee GOP Chairman Chip Saltsman to serve as his top political strategist.
Sources in Bauer’s office refused to comment on the split with LaCivita, but a source close to Bauer’s campaign called the decision “mutual.” The source also confirmed Saltsman’s hiring.
In addition to Saltsman, Bauer is currently being advised by longtime confidant Rod Shealy, Sr. and Columbia lobbyist/ consultant Larry Marchant. He does not have a day-to-day campaign manager.
Saltsman, FITS readers will recall, landed in hot water during the 2008 campaign for chairman of the Republican National Committee when he sent several fellow Republicans a Christmas CD that included a racist parody song entitled “Barack the Magic Negro.”
Within a month, Saltsman was forced to withdraw from the race for RNC Chairman.
The world of South Carolina GOP politics is Byzantine, and Folks appears to be a free agent in this complex pattern of intrigue. One source suggests that Folks is trying to get “back into the game” — to be more a consultant than a blogger — while another source points out that having the top political blog in South Carolina is a very valuable asset to Folks’ consulting business.
EXPECT FURTHER UPDATES . . . .