- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Taxpayers would continue to at least partly fund South Carolina’s first-in-the-South presidential primaries in the future under a bill backed by both major parties.

The bill, which lawmakers advanced Monday to the full House Judiciary Committee, clarifies that the State Election Commission is responsible for conducting the contests. It does that by deleting from state law a reference to the 2008 election cycle.

Rep. Alan Clemmons, the subcommittee’s chairman, said the bill means future presidential primaries will be funded through the budget like any other election, offset by filing fees that candidates pay.

“The whole intent is to have it paid for by the state,” said Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, who’s co-sponsoring the measure with Clemmons.

State GOP Chairman Matt Moore and state Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison both testified in support of the bill, saying the state’s first-in-the-South status that attracts national attention benefits taxpayers by bringing in millions in spending by candidates, media and political pundits. Nearly $11 million was spent on political advertisements alone on South Carolina radio and TV stations during the 2012 GOP presidential primary, according to a spreadsheet Moore provided.

“I think this is the first time I’ve had the chairmen of both parties endorsing the same bill,” said Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach. He said the January 2012 contest, which included a debate in Myrtle Beach, created a tourism season “during a time when there is no tourism.”

Until 2008, South Carolina’s political parties ran and paid for their presidential nominating contests. Clemmons, former chairman of the Horry County GOP, said those were more loosely run by volunteers, with processes that included paper ballots and combining many precincts - sometimes offering just one polling place per county.

With federal law requiring presidential primaries to be run like any other election, legislators decided to put the election commission in charge of the wide-open race for the White House in 2008 and approved one-time funding for those contests.

As the 2012 GOP primary approached, four counties sued, arguing that lawmakers didn’t update the law. The state Supreme Court turned back the counties’ challenge that the state lacked the authority to hold the contest, but it created uncertainty with the GOP contest just weeks away.

The state spent $2.4 million in 2008, when there were both GOP and Democratic presidential primaries. The state spent $1.3 million on the Republican primary in 2012, according to the State Election Commission.

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