One Columbia mayor candidate already posts big fundraising haul months before filing

Chris Trainor
·3 min read

Columbia’s mayoral candidates each have filed their initial campaign fundraising disclosures with the state, and one of the hopefuls has quickly thrown a bolt of lightning into the campaign cash race.

Sam Johnson, a former top aide to Mayor Steve Benjamin and a consultant with NP Strategy public relations firm, reported receiving $13,646 in campaign donations in his first campaign disclosure in the race, according to records from the South Carolina Ethics Commission. Johnson’s first report showed more than 50 individual donations.

Benjamin has been Columbia’s mayor for three terms but recently announced he wouldn’t seek reelection this November. After he made that decision, three candidates quickly jumped into the mayoral fray: Johnson, longtime at-large City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine and District 4 City Councilman Daniel Rickenmann.

The City of Columbia elections are on Tuesday, Nov. 2. If necessary, runoffs would be Nov. 16. filing will likely begin in August.

Devine reported $1,500 in campaign contributions in her initial disclosure, while Rickenmann reported $1,000, though that was a donation from himself to his campaign.

While Johnson has made a splash with his initial posting, the campaign cash fight in the mayoral race likely will be intriguing in the months to come, as Devine and Rickenmann have proved to be adept at fundraising in the past.

State ethics laws say candidates must make an initial disclosure within 10 days after spending or receiving the first $500 of campaign funds. They are only required to report the first $500 in that initial report. Beyond that, candidates in South Carolina are required to make quarterly reports of their campaign fundraising. The first of those quarterly reports for the mayoral campaign is due April 10.

Johnson’s initial disclosure shows donations from dozens of people, including folks like Richland County Councilwoman Jesica Mackey, an NP strategy colleague of Johnson’s; attorney Chris Kenney, who works in state Sen. Dick Harpootlian’s law firm; and Tyler Jones, a Democratic consultant from Charleston who helped guide former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunnigham’s campaigns.

“It’s a good snapshot,” Johnson said of his first Ethics Commission filing. “We feel good about that. It came from 50 different individuals. We are humbled by that. We think that’s indicative of the type of support we are receiving.”

Devine noted it is still quite early in the race and said she feels “very good” about her campaign fundraising prospects in the coming year. While she did not want to tip her hand, she hinted that she feels strongly about the possibilities of her first quarterly report coming up in April.

“I’ve run successfully citywide several times, so I know what it takes, but I know the level of spending will be different on the mayoral race, and I’ll have to raise more money,” Devine said. “But I’m a firm believer that, while money helps you get the message out and is necessary, nothing beats personal contact with the voters. We’ve got eight listening sessions already scheduled for the month of March. ... My goal is to reach every area of the city.

“While money helps with that, money is not the only thing.”

Rickenmann said he’s only beginning to get his fundraising efforts up and running and noted he will have a formal campaign kickoff in April.

When asked about Johnson’s initial fundraising burst, the District 4 councilman seemed unconcerned.

“This is a marathon; this isn’t a 5K,” Rickenmann said.