In the popular comedy movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, NASCAR racing teammate Cal Naughton Jr. decides at one point to give himself a new nickname: “Mr. Magic Man.”
“Now you see me; now you don’t,” Cal explains to Ricky.
“That is the stupidest nickname I’ve ever heard,” Ricky replies.
“Is it, Rick? ‘Cuz I think you wish you thought of it,” Cal responds.
“All right, you got me,” Ricky concedes. “That’s an awesome nickname.”
Here in the Palmetto State, S.C. Sen. Shane Martin is kind of like “Mr. Magic Man” – at least when it comes to revealing to the public what he does for a living, which just so happens to be connected to the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.
An investigation by The Nerve found at least one instance where Martin’s lack of transparency as a lawmaker might have allowed him to engage in an apparent conflict of interest related to his work in the racing world.
The Nerve last week left three phone messages and an email message for Martin seeking comment for this story. He did not respond.
On his website, senatormartin.com, the 41-year-old Spartanburg Republican, who was elected to the Senate in 2008, isn’t bashful about his involvement with NASCAR.
There are three pictures of him on the site celebrating at Nationwide Series victory lanes, including a 2009 shot in Iowa with winning driver Brad Keselowski, who went on to take the Nationwide Series championship in 2010 and the top-level Sprint Cup championship last year.
“My career as an Engineer gives me the opportunity to work with NASCAR’S finest,” boasts Martin.
In recent years, Martin has worked as the Chevrolet program manager for the Nationwide Series, according to racing articles from 2009 through last October and a July 2012 Chevrolet news release. The Nationwide Series is promoted as NASCAR’s “minor league” circuit.
But Martin, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Clemson University in 1994 and 1999, respectively, hasn’t been entirely transparent about his involvement with stock car racing.
On the Legislature’s website, for example, Martin lists his occupation only as “Engineer/Business Owner.” Secretary of State records show that he registered one business – Martin Automotive Consulting Inc. – in 2004 and another – Storys Creek Farm LLC – on Jan. 10 of this year.
And when asked recently by the South Carolina Policy Council, The Nerve’s parent organization, to voluntarily disclose his private sources of income – as has been requested of every other legislator as part of the Policy Council’s “Project Conflict Watch” – Martin made it clear he wouldn’t participate.
South Carolina is the only state that requires lawmakers to disclose just their government income sources, according to a January report issued by the South Carolina Commission on Ethics Reform. Martin hasn’t listed his private sources of income on his annual statements of economic interests filed with the State Ethics Commission – nor is he required to under state law.
“I have no interest in having the companies for which I perform work as a contractor being dragged through the mud or accused of wrongdoing simply because someone decides that something doesn’t look right or they want to trumpet a ‘revelation’ for some reason,” Martin responded to the Policy Council’s income-disclosure request in a July 8 email to Talbert Black of Lexington County, the state coordinator of the grassroots organization Campaign for Liberty.
“My customers did not sign up for political drama, and they will not stick around for it,” Martin continued in his response, which he copied to a Nerve reporter. “I have to work for a living, and I will not put the income that feeds, clothes and shelters my family in jeopardy for the sake of an experiment.”
Martin in the email also blasted The Nerve’s June 24 story on state Rep. Eric Bedingfield, which revealed that the Greenville County Republican last year earned more than $74,000 as the part-time deputy chief of staff for Republican U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a former state lawmaker from Lancaster County.
Martin described the story as a “hatchet job,” noting: “Eric fully complied with the (Policy Council’s) disclosure request as a gesture of good will and in the spirit that he has nothing to hide, which he does not. The fact that he works for Congressman Mulvaney became, nonetheless, a platform for insinuations of graft and even a violation of the SC Constitution, and he was held out as a sort of face of corruption.”
Corporate Welfare for Racetrack
In a subsequent review of Martin’s voting record as a senator, The Nerve found that at least one of his votes posed an apparent conflict of interest with his NASCAR-related job – though the general public likely wasn’t aware of it at the time.
In 2011, Martin and Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, co-sponsored a state budget proviso (Proviso 90.23) that allowed up to $114,000 in state admissions taxes to be rebated to the Darlington “Too Tough To Tame” Raceway, which hosts an annual NASCAR Sprint Cup race over Mother’s Day weekend. The budget proviso was renewed by the Legislature for last fiscal year (Proviso 90.16) and this year (Proviso 118.10).
At the time of the original budget proviso, Martin told The Nerve that he and Malloy wanted to help the Darlington Raceway – NASCAR’s oldest super-speedway – maintain its NASCAR position while the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce promoted the Charlotte Motor Speedway – an out-of-state competitor.
Martin did not reveal his ties to NASCAR when interviewed then by The Nerve.
“Darlington needs to be able to compete and market itself in order to keep that race,” Martin said in the July 19, 2011, Nerve story, “and we felt like they could do a better job (than the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism) of marketing and competing against the threat from Charlotte.”
The General Assembly this year made it even easier for the Darlington Raceway to receive the tax break by passing a bill (S. 481), which was signed into law last month by Gov. Nikki Haley, that eliminates the requirement that a raceway have at least 60,000 seats to be eligible for the break. Instead, under the bill, a “NASCAR sanctioned motor speedway” must host at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup race annually to receive the tax break – effectively applying to only the Darlington Raceway, which reportedly is considering a plan to eliminate some of its seating for wider seats.
Malloy sponsored the bill. Martin was the only senator to abstain from voting, Senate Journal records show.
Under state ethics law (Section 8-13-700 of the S.C. Code of Laws) a lawmaker or other public official cannot “knowingly use his official office, membership, or employment to obtain an economic interest for himself, a family member, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated.”
There is one huge loophole in the law, however, that lawmakers routinely use: Known as the “large-class exception,” legislators can vote on anything that benefits their business so long as it benefits other members of their profession or occupation.
Contacted last week, a spokesman at NASCAR’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla., referred The Nerve’s questions about Martin to a spokeswoman for Chevrolet Racing. That person and another public relations contact at Chevrolet Racing did not return phone and written messages from The Nerve.
‘No Connection’ to Martin
Clemson University, where Martin earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, conducts research on the “technological, managerial, and cultural aspects of sports, particularly motorsports,” through its Brooks Institute for Sports Science, which was founded in 1995, according to the university’s website.
The university’s research “currently benefits racing series and teams such as NASCAR, NHRA (National Hot Rod Association), American Le Mans and industry partners such as Ford, GM (which owns the Chevrolet brand), Chrysler, BMW, Michelin and Rockwell Automation,” the site says.
Asked last week by The Nerve if Martin had any connection in his professional job to the university’s research, Clemson spokeswoman Cathy Sams said in a written response, “I have checked with a number of people and to the best of my knowledge, there is no connection.”
Sams did not immediately respond to follow-up questions from The Nerve about how much research Clemson has conducted on Chevrolet racing vehicles or related technology.
Clemson records show that Martin has been a regular donor to the university. He also has supported Clemson as a lawmaker: On May 9, he was among 37 senators who voted in favor a bill (S. 535), sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, that would create an “enterprise division” within the university to bypass state laws governing procurement and the purchase and leasing of property.
Martin for unspecified reasons, however, deliberately stalled the bill in the Senate so it would miss a May 1 crossover deadline for the House to act on it this year, according to media reports. The bill can be taken up again when the Legislature returns to Columbia in January.
Last year, Clemson announced the launch of a student-led initiative, dubbed “Clemson Racing,” to form a partnership with NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Mike Wallace, with the hope of getting a sponsorship this year for Wallace’s No. 01 Chevrolet, owned by the Gaffney-based JD Motorsports team.
Wallace is a younger brother to 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and racing champion Rusty Wallace. Members of the Wallace family, including Rusty, along with other current or former NASCAR drivers, crew members and team owners, including Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Rick Hendrick, Bobby Labonte, Joe Nemechek, David Pearson and Roger Penske, as well as other companies connected to racing, collectively contributed approximately $50,000 to Martin’s senate election campaigns from 2008 through last year, The Nerve found in a review of state campaign records.
“The entire race community supports Shane,” Rusty Wallace said in a 2008 story in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
Jamie Murguia, director of research for the South Carolina Policy Council, and Nerve intern Emily Dawes contributed to this story. Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.