New legislation, introduced Wednesday by Knotts and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, would place a five percent surcharge on all political advertisements paid for by PACs or other groups not affiliated with a candidate’s campaign. The bill would affect all advertisements which advocate “the election or defeat of a candidate, political party or ballot measure,” though party committees like the Democratic National Committee or state Republican Party would be exempt.
Knotts said money raised from the surtax would help pay for South Carolina’s future primaries for both political parties. Three-fifths of the money would go to the state Election Commission, and two-fifths would go directly to the counties.
“Different political groups spent millions and millions of dollars on ads this past election, and the courts have said they can do it,” Knotts told Palmetto Public Record on Monday. “This doesn’t stop them from doing it, it just puts a tax on it.”
Finance records show that PACs spent more than $7.3 million on advertising in South Carolina this year. Had Knotts’ proposed surtax been in effect, it would have raised over $360,000 to fund the primary. We certainly could have used that money after the SCGOP reneged on its promise to pay for $500,000 of the primary costs, leaving taxpayers to cover the rest.
Knotts made clear that the intent of the bill is not to quash political speech, which the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision granted to corporations in unlimited amounts. “If these out-of-state organizations want to come in and spend millions of dollars on negative ads, let ‘em do it,” said Knotts. “But also let ‘em pay a tax to help us run the primary.”
The tax wouldn’t have much of an effect on political advertising in the Palmetto State, according to a local account manager who handled political ads during primary season. “Five percent is a drop in the bucket compared to the kind of money PACs are taking in,” he said. “They’re going to spend that money regardless.”