Internal Emails Reveal Bitterness Behind South Carolina Special Election

Political consultants for candidates Mark Sanford and Curtis Bostic argue bitterly online.

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Then-South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford speaks to the media in front of St. Philip's Church in downtown Charleston, S.C. Wednesday Dec. 9, 2009.
Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford could be in trouble in the race for South Carolina's 1st District congressional seat.

An exchange between political consultants on an internal GOP listserv reveals the bitterness at the heart of the special election taking place on April 2 for a vacant South Carolina House seat.

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The emails, which were leaked to Whispers Thursday night, show an ugly back-and-forth between a political strategist working for candidate Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina, and a volunteer for candidate Curtis Bostic, the underdog in the race. The winner in the run-off faces Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch (the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert) in the May general election to fill the seat of Tim Scott, who was appointed to the Senate earlier this year.

Sanford and Bostic also sparred publicly themselves in a debate Thursday night, during which the former governor's well-documented infidelity was the focus.

The online conversation about the campaign, which happened on the "NewMediaExchange" Google group for center right technologists, began innocuously enough when one member posted a link about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and how it spent its money.

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But then the conversation was taken up a notch.

"If all else fails when trying to raise money for congressional candidates, just try this tactic," Wesley Donehue, a strategist recently retained by Sanford, wrote to the group. "Fair warning—it's illegal."

Donehue then linked to a news report about confusion in the Bostic campaign over whether a website that was raising money for the campaign was actually affiliated with it. It was later revealed the website was created by Ali Akbar, at the request of a volunteer on the Bostic campaign, according to local media reports.

Akbar, who is also on the listserv, immediately lashed out.

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"Call Curtis and stop being scum Wesley," wrote Akbar. "It was approved then, it's approved now... Taking advantage of a growing campaign that's never experienced a race like this is unprofessional." Akbar went on: "And what you're asserting is down-right damning. So in 6 months when the FEC doesn't report my company to the Justice Dept, I'll get your Christian apology? Right brother? Low-level stuff dude. Do your Sanford thing, while I keep doing my good work. Or just keep making a meme out of me. Or yourself," Akbar then linked to a story about Donehue, which noted that before he began working for Sanford, Donehue had publicly called the former South Carolina governor a "piece of human [sh#t]."

The back-and-forth didn't go much further before a moderator stepped in and told the two to take their name calling elsewhere.

When contacted by Whispers, Akbar said that Donehue's "gutter tactics" are "what is wrong with the consultant-class."

Donehue told Whispers he "would like nothing more than to expose the deceptive and shady tactics that occurred this week" but couldn't do so until after the run-off. Sanford campaign spokesman Joel Sawyer wouldn't comment on the emails. He told Whispers the campaign was "focusing on issues that matters to folks in the First District." The Curtis campaign didn't immediately respond to request for comment.

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A moderator of NewMediaExchange, Erik Telford, who stepped in to stop the fight, said that having the list devolve into name calling was "extremely rare." But he also said it wasn't surprising in light of "having two people from heated rival campaigns" on the listserv, especially in a special election. "It's clear something was brewing outside of the list beforehand," he said.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.