COLUMBIA — South Carolina Democratic leaders are trying to decide whether to support a convicted felon running for Congress as a Democrat.
After winning in this month’s week’s Democratic primary, Bryan Lamont “Ryan B” Doyle will appear on the November ballot as the party’s nominee in the state’s 3rd Congressional district, which stretches along the state’s western edge from the mountain town of Walhalla south to Edgefield.
Federal court records show Doyle, 37, was convicted in 2003 on six felony counts related to Medicare fraud and making false statements, resulting in a 30- month prison sentence.
Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said party officials would need to evaluate Doyle’s chances of success and campaign strategy before opting to devote resources toward campaigning for him.
“He’s legally qualified, A. And B, we’re sending him to Washington, where fraud is a way of life. So I certainly don’t think it’s a disqualifier,” Harpootlian said of Doyle’s conviction. “We’d have to see what kind of effort he’s making.”
South Carolina law prohibits convicted felons from serving in state office. But there is no law barring felons from seeking federal office, though the U.S. House or Senate could vote to expel any member deemed unfit to serve.
Doyle, who lives in Aiken and has a syndicated talk radio show, admits he made mistakes when he was younger, but insists he was an innocent man framed by a corrupt federal agent after he refused to falsely testify against others.
“I was not involved in any way, shape or form,” Doyle said this week. “It was a document that showed up with my signature on it. I just shared office space with somebody. If I had to do what I had to do all over again, I would make the same decision.”
Still, he said he grew as a person during his time behind bars and considers himself a positive role model. He says he regularly speaks about his life experiences to Scout troops and at Boys & Girls Clubs.
“We all have transgressions in our lives and have made mistakes,” Doyle said. “We cannot hold all mistakes over the heads of all people.”
Records show Doyle and a co-defendant were convicted of using a medical supply company to fraudulently bill Medicare for $503,000 in wheelchairs and custom wheelchair seats. As part of his sentence, Doyle has to repay the federal government for half of stolen amount. He says he is still making court-ordered payments of $250 a month, an amount set based on his income.
Even without his checkered past, Doyle would still face strong political headwinds against winning election.
The 3rd District leans heavily Republican and Doyle is squaring off against one-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, a conservative member of the Tea Party Caucus from Laurens.
Campaign finance records show Duncan has raised $466,165 in the current election cycle, with $226,243 remaining in cash on hand. That compares with Doyle, who reports raising $11,837 with only $40 remaining as of May 28.
Doyle previously ran for the seat in 2010. Following a 2011 redistricting, the home address Doyle lists in his candidacy filing is no longer in the 3rd district. Federal law does not prohibit candidates from seeking office in a district in which they do not live.
The state Republican Party has sent out e-mails calling attention to Doyle’s criminal record.
“In choosing candidates like Brian Doyle, the South Carolina Democratic Party has abandoned common sense,” said Matt Moore, executive director of the state GOP. “The third district is in good hands with Jeff Duncan and Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike will be supporting him in November.”
Doyle is not exactly close with his party’s leadership in Columbia. Two years ago, he filed a federal lawsuit accusing the South Carolina Democratic Party of violating his civil rights and conspiring “to thwart his political ambitions, and neutralize him as a voice for progressive, anti-corruption, humanistic politics and policies for the State.” The case is still pending.
Doyle said he doesn’t mind answering questions from voters with concerns about his past, but he said there are bigger issues at stake in this election.
“This race for the 3rd Congressional district is not about me,” Doyle said. “It’s about what we’re going to do about education here. We’re ranked 47 in the country. We need to get our kids on a better education platform.”
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck