GOP Operative Hired By S.C. Democrat: There’s No Plot Here!

June 15, 2010 6:23 a.m.

The Republican consultant at the heart of accusations of mischief in the South Carolina Democratic primary said in an interview he worked for a Democratic candidate because he opposed higher taxes and seemed qualified to serve in Congress.

Preston Grisham, a longtime campaign operative for Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), said his new firm Stonewall Strategies was just getting its first clients together when Gregory Brown gave him a call out of the blue to ask for some help with his primary campaign against House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC). Though the nearly $24,000 in payments (the largest expense for the Brown campaign) are listed as for “marketing,” both Grisham and Brown said Stonewall did initial polling and helped Brown set up his Web site. (It was housed here last week but now is a dead link.)“It wasn’t my idea to work for him as any way to raise mischief, it was just to help a level-headed, good guy,” Grisham told TPM in an interview. He said Stonewall worked with Brown through March, to “help him get it off the ground.”

“I just received a phone call. I don’t know how he got my name,” Grisham told me.

How the two seemingly unlikely allies were connected is key to the mystery here, with Clyburn accusing Grisham of being part of a broader plot to “plant” candidates in primaries. In the cases of Senate candidate Alvin Greene and Ben Frasier in the 1st Congressional district, they won their primaries. Yesterday, Clyburn suggested on MSNBC that all three candidates employed Stonewall, though his office did not provide any evidence when we asked. Clyburn said Wilson’s “campaign manager was managing my opponent’s campaign,” which was not the case.

At the same time that Grisham was working for the Democratic campaign of Brown, he was doing work for at least two Republican campaigns in the state. Grisham’s Stonewall Strategies got $5,000 in May from the campaign of Republican Eleanor Kitzman, a candidate for lieutenant governor. Grisham told me that Kitzman was his main client.

Grisham denies any connection to Greene and Frasier, and today Clyburn did a round of television interviews where he did not mention Grisham’s firm or his suspicion the three candidates are somehow linked.

Brown told us last week he’d searched “high and low” for political firms who would be willing to take on a member of House Democratic leadership. Brown said his friends had recommended Grisham as someone with experience running political campaigns and who was “capable.” At first Brown told me that he wasn’t aware of Grisham’s connection with Wilson, made famous in spring 2009 for shouting “You Lie” during President Obama’s address to Congress. Then Brown said “I was aware” that he had consulted with Wilson, but said he had “no knowledge” that Grisham held such a prominent role with the Wilson campaign.

Grisham left Wilson’s office last fall and started his own firm in January.

Grisham said Brown is the only Democrat he’s worked for — pointedly saying he has friends in both parties — but said the internal polling he conducted showed Brown had no chance against Clyburn. Brown won just 10 percent of the vote last Tuesday, which Grisham said was in line with his initial polling.

Grisham said he views Clyburn as a bully throwing accusations around because he doesn’t want to be challenged by his own party. Clyburn is saying he’s worried there may have been widespread fraud on election day.

“He’s trying to intimidate other people from running against him in the future, and I just don’t see how you can tell somebody they can’t run for public office,” Grisham said. As for the suggestion he’s involved in some sort of plot? “That’s kind of absurd and hilarious,” he said.

Frasier and Greene have not filed campaign finance reports so there is no way to verify through official channels how they spent money during the campaign.

In another strange development, I spoke with Glenn Manning, a Dillon, S.C.-based attorney listed on Brown’s campaign finance reports as being paid for “campaign mgmt” and “consulting.” He refused to speak to me, only telling me that he and Brown had parted ways after three months of working together due to a difference of opinion. Then when I asked for more details about what he was paid $12,000 to do, Manning said he’d “rather not get into that” before hanging up.

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