This week from Under the Outhouse, a group claims a “Myrtle Beach Mafia” has hijacked the city, more beer freedom (and beer in general) may be headed to South Carolina, and Captain America channels his inner Edward Snowden.
A group of local activists opposing the Myrtle Beach area’s 1 percent sales tax is targeting a coalition of local politicians, local business magnates, and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. A post by the organization on Myrlte-Beach.com supposedly documents “how one hotel corporation took full control of an entire city and is now working to have greater control over an entire state.” The existence of an organized “Myrtle Beach Mafia” may be a bit of a stretch; however, the article does highlight what could be one of the biggest pay-to-play scandals in the history of the state -- as well as the fleecing of Myrtle Beach locals at the hands of corrupt politicians and Chamber of Commerce.
The story begins back in 2009, when the South Carolina Legislature allowed local municipalities like Myrtle Beach to pass a 1 percent sales tax to fund tourism-related projects. In May of that year, the Myrtle Beach City Council voted to approve the 1 percent sales tax increase (without putting it to the voters, of course). Of the more than $30-million collected yearly from tourists and locals, 80 percent is directed back to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, which (unsurprisingly) lobbied state and local elected officials to pass the tax. Only a small percentage is actually used for infrastructure projects in the area; according to WMBF News, just $1.9 million was allocated to public works projects in Myrtle Beach in the tax’s first three years, while $57 million was used for advertising. The Chamber claims the tax has been instrumental in bringing more tourists to the area, but local activists claim the tax is a kickback scheme benefitting the chamber, local politicians who support making the tax permanent, and large hoteliers (the Brittain Resort Corporation). Additionally, activists claim that the tax puts small hotels and condo owners who lease their property at a disadvantage.
The economic impact of the tax on tourism is still debatable (though if a cigarette tax is intended to stunt smoking, a tax on tourism would theoretically have the same effect), but the group’s “kickback” accusation does carry merit.
According to The Sun News’ David Wren, a federal criminal investigation is examining $324,500 in political contributions made in 2009 to local officials who supported the sales tax increase. Wren reports the possibly illegal contributions came from 14 shell corporations – all listing Myrtle Beach lawyer and former Chamber Chairman Robert “Shep” Guyton as their registered agent. Myrtle Beach City Council members Wayne Gray, Randal Wallace and Mayor John Rhodes are just a few who received this money. State Senator Ray Cleary (R-Murrells Inlet) and state Representatives Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach), Liston Barfield (R-Aynor), and Nelson Hardwick (R-Surfside Beach) are also some of those reported to have received contributions from these corporations.
South Carolina State Senator Sean Bennett (R-Summerville) filed an amendment last week that would make the state more hospitable to craft breweries. The amendment, co-sponsored by State Senator Greg Hembree (R-Little River), would allow craft breweries to make more beer, as well as sell directly to distributors both in and out of the state. Such changes to South Carolina’s laws would make the state more attractive to microbrewers like California-based Stone Brewery, which is looking to expand in the East. "I certainly think we’re in the running and have a shot at it," South Carolina Brewers Association attorney Brook Bristow told The Greenville News.
According to The Sun News, economic developers from the area have targeted a location across from Broadway at the Beach as a possible spot for Stone’s footprint in the East. However, Brad Lofton, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., doubts the brewery would commit to such a large expansion without a law on the books that would allow it to operate in the state.
At press time, the bill resides with the Senate Judiciary committee, and must be passed by the Senate by May 1 in order for it to be also approved by the House this year.
Before it leaves theaters, I strongly suggest you go see “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Marvel’s second installment of comic book hero Captain America is a modern-day allegory of the battle between freedom and security. And, following the on-going revelations of the extent of the Obama Administration’s illegal use of domestic spying by the National Security Agency, the movie’s message hits close to home.