Sen. Bright Explains Discrepancies on Income-Disclosure Forms

January 2, 2014

Investigative Reports

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Sen. Lee BrightWhen U.S. Senate candidate Lee Bright, a Republican state senator from Spartanburg County, filed his required federal income-disclosure form last month, he listed a company he owns as one of his private income sources.

That company, BBD LLC, is not listed, however, on an income-disclosure form that Bright voluntarily submitted in May to the South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’sparent organization – as part of the Policy Council’s “Project Conflict Watch.”

The project was launched in April to encourage state lawmakers and other elected officials to voluntarily report their private sources of income. To date, 44 state officials and one local official have participated.

State law requires elected officials to annually report their public, though not their private, income sources to the State Ethics Commission, known as a “statement of economic interests.”

Not knowing politicians’ private-income sources prevents citizens from monitoring whether there are any potential conflicts of interest.The Nerve reported throughout 2013 on a number of conflicts of interest involving state lawmakers.

Federal income-disclosure forms are far more detailed than the state forms, as The Nerve reported in March when four S.C. legislators unsuccessfully sought the congressional seat formerly held by Republican Tim Scott: Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley; and Reps. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston; Peter McCoy, R-Charleston; and Andy Patrick, R-Beaufort.

In a recent interview, Bright told The Nerve that he wasn’t hiding anything when he voluntarily submitted his Policy Council income-disclosure form last year.

“I formed the corporation (BBD LLC) but didn’t have any income until later in 2013,” he said. “Sadly to say, it was zero in 2012.”

The Policy Council’s income-disclosure form requests officials to list their private income sources, though not actual income amounts, generating at least $1,000 in income from Jan. 1, 2012, to the date of when they filled out the form. Bright’s federal income-disclosure form lists income sources and amounts of at least $200 from Jan. 1, 2012, until the official start of his U.S. Senate candidacy on Aug. 12 of last year.

Bright told The Nerve that his company didn’t “start making money” until June of last year. He submitted his Policy Council form on May 23.

Bright said he would be willing to file an updated Policy Council form this year.

BBD LLC was registered with the state on Sept. 27, 2012, records at the Secretary of State’s Office show. Bright said his company does “some credit-card processing,” as well as provide trucking “brokerage and logistics” services.

“It’s kind of like a catch-all that I can run income through,” he said. “Really, it’s just sales.”

The company was registered under the name of Michael Stevens, who Bright confirmed is his campaign consultant for his U.S. Senate bid. Bright said Stevens doesn’t have any ownership interest in the company and currently doesn’t provide any services to the firm, adding that Stevens “hasn’t made a dime” from the business.

“He is someone I trust, and I just listed him as the processing agent,” Bright said.

Bright’s federal campaign-disclosure form for the most recent quarter, filed in October, shows that Stevens received $2,358 during the period, mainly mileage reimbursements.

Bright, 43, who was elected to the S.C. Senate in 2008, said Stevens worked on his 2012 state Senate campaign, though he noted that when BBD LLC was registered with the state, there was “no campaign” then for his U.S. Senate bid.

On his federal income-disclosure form, Bright reported earning a total of $24,411 with BBD during the reporting period. He also reported receiving $22,500 from sales contract work with a Spartanburg environmental services company known as AEO Inc., plus $5,001 to $15,000 in income from a rental house.

The federal form also requires candidates to list a spouse’s income of at least $1,000, though the actual amounts don’t have to be reported. Bright listed three sources of $1,000-plus income for his wife, Amy Bright: a salaried position at Roebuck Baptist Church, income from private piano instruction, and contract income from Dawson Document Laboratory in Spartanburg.

The position with Dawson Document Laboratory is not listed on Bright’s Policy Council form. Bright said his wife didn’t start working for that company until last year.

Of the $92,911 in total earned  income that Bright reported receiving from Jan. 1, 2012, through Aug. 12, 2013, the single-largest income source listed on his federal form is $42,800 that he received as a state lawmaker. Legislators receive an annual base salary of $10,400, plus can get up to $12,000 yearly in “in-district” compensation, among other benefits, as The Nerve has previously reported.

Bright’s smallest income source listed on his federal form is $3,200 in salary from a financially struggling trucking company he owns, known as On Time Trucking Inc. The form lists 29 creditor debts totaling in the range of $1.35 million to $3.14 million; Bright some of the debt was “a loan from me to the business and some shareholder loans.”

“I still own the trucking company; I didn’t shut it down,” Bright said, though he noted, “It’s not operating.”

Bright pinned some of the trucking company’s financial woes on the fallout from the Great Recession. He said he plans on “working on that debt over time,” adding he would accelerate those payments with his U.S. Senate salary should he win the seat, currently held by Republican Lindsey Graham.

The 2013 salary for U.S. House and Senate rank-and-file members was $174,000.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.