- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -

Treasurer Curtis Loftis is seeking a second term against a political newcomer who jumped into the race just over two months ago to give voters an option.

Brian Adams, of Spartanburg, recognizes the long odds of taking on an incumbent with little money to introduce himself to voters statewide. But he said he decided to sign up when he realized no one else was filing to challenge Loftis.

“It’s not a good idea for an incumbent to get his seat back again without a challenge,” said Adams, an information technology consultant.

The winner of the June 10 Republican primary essentially wins the job of chief financial officer. As in 2010, no Democrat is running for the post, which pays $92,000 a year.

Loftis, 55, said Thursday he wants to continue improvements to the treasurer’s office. He said that includes updating its decades-old computer software systems to more efficiently manage taxpayers’ money and public debt.

“It’s been patched together by people who aren’t even alive now,” he said. “It’s a tremendous amount of work. It’s expensive, but not when you compare it to what one error can cost us.”

He cites his staff’s capabilities as among his top achievements, by employing six certified public accountants and three lawyers who can review contracts. He said that greater expertise explains personnel budget increases. His office is expected to spend about $630,000 more on salaries, not counting benefits, in the upcoming fiscal year than in 2011-12, according to a review of state budgets.

“We’ve increased our skill set to protect the money of the people,” Loftis said. “Our budget is minuscule compared to what we do. All we do is save money.”

Another top achievement, he said, is that the office had its first full accounting audit in 24 years.

The office’s duties include making the payments of state government and overseeing the state’s 529 Future Scholar college savings program. He’s also the chairman of the state Board of Financial Institutions that regulates state banks and lenders.

Loftis has spent much of his tenure fighting with the Retirement Systems Investment Commission, the agency that invests South Carolina’s pension portfolio, and with his fellow board members who oversee it. As treasurer, Loftis is the only elected member of the board.

Their escalating public feud led to an unprecedented lawsuit before the state Supreme Court last year, as well as an investigation by state Inspector General Patrick Maley, at Loftis’ request. Maley’s report last July found no criminal conduct or deceptive practices by the commission. But he wrote he’d never seen such a toxic, distrustful relationship between two organizations.

An external audit released in April called the dysfunctional relationship one of the most significant risks to the $27 billion portfolio that benefits more than 550,000 public workers, retirees and their beneficiaries. The review by Michigan-based Funston Advisory Services was the latest to find no evidence of criminal or ethical wrongdoing at the Retirement System Investment Commission, despite Loftis’ accusations.

Earlier this year, the State Ethics Commission dismissed conflict-of-interest allegations against the commission’s chairman, ending state investigations launched in 2012 at Loftis’ request. Attorney General Alan Wilson dropped his criminal probe last October.

A “silver lining benefit” to the acrimony, Maley said in his report, is that it has encouraged an examination of both infrastructure and alternative investments. He also said procedures have improved.

Adams, 50, said he wants to take a more cooperative approach. He also accuses Loftis of hypocrisy, saying that while he demands transparency from others, he isn’t forthcoming with information from his own office. Loftis dismisses his opponent’s comments.

“I think we can do better,” Adams said. “We can work with the parties, rather than make a lot of false accusations, to do what’s right and protect retirees and students investing in the 529 program without bombastic actions of making false accusations and dragging people to court. I’d much rather take a cooperative approach instead of making myself out to be the victim.”

Adams had just $4,000 available in his campaign account, after raising $25,000, as of his pre-election disclosure filed May 31.

That compares to more than $179,000 Loftis had on hand May 26. Loftis has an outstanding campaign loan of $717,000 - most of that remaining from his 2010 victory.

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