Live 5 Investigates: Charleston mayoral race attracted $175k in developer-related money

VIDEO: Live 5 Investigates: Charleston mayoral race attracted $175k in developer-related money

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston’s candidates for mayor had one last day of campaigning Monday before city voters go to the polls for the runoff election.

Councilman Mike Seekings is challenging incumbent Mayor John Tecklenburg. Neither man earned a majority of votes in the election two weeks ago, so a runoff was required.

One hot topic in their race is managing growth and development.

The candidates and their respective ads pointed fingers at one another about being cozy with developers.

A look at their donations through State Ethics Commission filings showed both candidates accepted tens of thousands of dollars from people and companies connected to development.

We analyzed all of the $1,000 donations paid to the Tecklenburg and Seekings campaigns this year. There is a $1,000 donation cap per entity.

While reviewing donors, we looked for self-described developers or companies specializing in commercial property and major real estate investment. We didn’t include attorneys and real estate agents in our count unless they were highly specialized in big development or connected to a major local development project.

Developer-related donations totaled more than $175,000 for the two campaigns.

Approximately $91,000 of that was for Tecklenburg. That accounts for about nine percent of his most recently reported $1,067,654.60 total campaign contributions.

Approximately $84,000 was for Seekings, about twelve percent of his most recently reported $684,574.21 total campaign contributions.

We provided the totals to both campaigns. Seekings’ campaign manager Daniel Brock said they tallied the mayor’s developer-related donations at more than $100,000.

The Mayor pointed out that Seekings’ percentage was higher but said he believes there’s “no inordinate influence from the donations.”

We asked Tecklenburg if he feels beholden to companies that donate to his campaign.

“Well, no. There’s a $1,000 limit for municipal elections and no one would sell their soul in policy making. I certainly wouldn’t,” he said. “I’m proud to have the support of some of our business community. And they’ve donated to my campaign. I think about 10% of my contributions come from businesses. Ninety percent of my contributions come from individuals.”

Many companies find legal ways to donate much more than a grand.

We found several groupings of LLCs linked to the same address, the same development company or registered agent through the Secretary of State.

In response to our questions about developer-related donations, Seekings said, “Let me just say this: the biggest contributor to the Seekings campaign is me… I think it’s good to set the record straight on this because there’s been things said that I’m 100% with developers. My job is to represent people in disputes that they have with- guess who? Developers! So the whole idea that somehow I’ve become someone out there in the pocket of or working on behalf of developers is quite frankly ridiculous.”

We found several companies that donated to both campaigns, too. For example, Southeastern Development out of Augusta and a major downtown Charleston condo development company named East West Partners donated to both Tecklenburg and Seekings.

Several local realtors and investors donated to both candidates, too.

The Mayor said he personally knows most of his donors. He said “development” has become such a hot topic because people are worried about their quality of life. He said he’s making storm water requirements stricter to prevent flooding issues. He also said he tried to pass a moratorium on hotel development for years but City Council wouldn’t approve it.

“We finally did get the support of council when the election year rolled around- everybody realized how important it was - we got the toughest new restrictions on future hotels that I think any city in America has. So that’s a big step,” Tecklenburg said.

“We have to manage it better- no matter what happens – we must manage it better,” Seekings insisted. “For example, on Johns Island. Rampant growth out there in areas inappropriate for building.” He also pointed to downtown. “We now have 3,500 market-rate apartments going up within a square mile on the peninsula. That’s through lack of foresight, planning and zoning.”

“Let’s have a long term plan. I feel at this point, we don’t. And that’s what this election is all about," Seekings said.

Copyright 2019 WCSC. All rights reserved.