COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina will not fund the state GOP's first-in-the-South presidential primary in February, leaving officials scrambling to sort out who will pay for it.
The Republican Party insists the primary will go on, even if the GOP must come up with as much as $1.5 million to run it.
"In no way is this primary in jeopardy," said Matt Moore, the state GOP's executive director.
The party could go back to running the primary with paper ballots and volunteers, which is how it was done until 2008. That year, Republicans and Democrats pushed for and won state funding for the wide-open White House primaries and the state election commission started running them.
But Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, a conservative who has been making a name for herself nationally, insists that taxpayer funds be used only for what she calls core functions. She told lawmakers earlier this year that those functions don't include primaries.
"Political parties have sufficient fundraising ability to offset the costs of partisan presidential preference primaries, and in a budget year like this one, it is my ask that we do not dedicate taxpayer dollars to something I believe does not rise to the level of a core function of government," she wrote in a letter in March.
A measure that would have allowed the election commission to run the primaries and bill the GOP was axed last week during final budget negotiations.
On Friday, the election commission asked the attorney general whether it can use leftover money from last year's elections— $680,000 at most — to pay for the primary, said agency spokesman Chris Whitmire. The attorney general has not yet offered an opinion.
Despite Haley's objections, the state GOP has been persistent in asking for state funding for the primary, including during budget negotiations.
The GOP "outreach last week sought to make clear that state involvement is wise to ensure the election is fair and unbiased," Moore said.
He said the primary will go on even if Haley vetoes plans to use leftover election commission money.
"That's the governor's prerogative. We respect that," Moore said. "No matter what, we're going to put on this primary. We're committed to raising any funds beyond what the state may provide."
The GOP already has raised $125,000 through filing fees from five candidates and will pick up $35,000 on Wednesday when former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman drops off his as he launches his presidential bid, Moore said.
Still, the party would have to raise a lot more either to run a primary on its own or supplement the cash the Election Commission has. The GOP's latest state and federal financial reports show it has nearly $137,000 on hand. An exact date for the primary has not been set.
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