While it’s not clear what Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin’s favorite holiday song is, based on his latest campaign finance report it’s a pretty good bet he was humming “Tennessee Christmas” in December 2017.
According to filings with the South Carolina Ethics Commission earlier this week, Benjamin brought in $20,700 in campaign donations — including a host of December contributions from Tennessee — in the most recent quarter, which ran from mid-October to early January.
The late 2017 money poured in despite the fact that Benjamin was not on the ballot for November’s municipal election, since no one filed to run against him. (That not-on-the-ballot loophole for unopposed municipal officials has since been deleted from state law.) Benjamin was sworn-in for his third term as mayor on Jan. 9.
It appears Benjamin is considering donations from last quarter a jumpstart on his fundraising for the next mayoral election, as, on the “Election Date” tab on the filing, he lists Nov. 9, 2021, which is the next time he would have to run for Columbia’s top political spot.
The third-term mayor maintains a reasonably healthy national profile, one that is set to see him ascend to the presidency of the United States Conference of Mayors later this year. That appeal outside of Columbia is consistently reflected in Benjamin’s fundraising reports.
During the last quarter, the mayor received 29 campaign donations. Of those, nearly half (14) were from out-of-state. In all, $11,750 of the $20,700 received for the quarter was out-of-state cash.
The mayor garnered six donations that were logged between Dec. 16 and Jan. 3 from various entities in Tennessee. Those six donations were for $1,000 each.
Among the Tennessee cash was $1,000 from the political action committee of Memphis-based shipping giant FedEx, $1,000 from the Friends of AC Wharton (the former mayor of Memphis) and $1,000 from Tyrone Burroughs, a Tennessee businessman and, like Benjamin, a trustee at Benedict College.
“The former mayor of Memphis, AC Wharton, is a friend and wanted to help,” Benjamin told Free Times this week, also noting that Burroughs is a friend and referencing their service on the Benedict board.
Other out-of-state donors on Benjamin’s list last quarter included a Virginia-based political action committee for Boeing ($1,000) and Illinois’ Transdev, the company that is contracted to run the COMET bus system in Richland County ($1,000).
Benjamin told Free Times he actually didn’t fundraise very aggressively in the last quarter, mainly because he didn’t have competition for his city seat, though some of his closest allies on Council did, namely Tameika Isaac Devine and Sam Davis, each of whom ultimately fended off challengers in the November election.
“If I had opposition, I would have raised much more aggressively,” the mayor says. “Sam Davis had opposition, Devine had opposition, the governor’s races were kicking off. I’d rather those donors be able to focus their finite resources on races that need their support more.”
The mayor currently has a total of nearly $212,000 in his campaign war chest.
As of Friday afternoon, the only other Columbia City Council member who had filed a campaign disclosure for the mid-October to early Jaunuary quarter was Councilman Howard Duvall. He received one donation for $100 for the quarter, and has $1,152 in total campaign cash on-hand. He’s not up for re-election until 2019.