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New York millionaire real estate developer Howard Rich, renowned for his support of conservative causes, has given a last-minute boost to the congressional campaign of former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

Rich and his wife, Andrea, each donated the legal maximum of $2,600 to Sanford on March 28, according to federal records. They rank among the handful of elite donors to provide such support to Sanford since he headed into today’s South Carolina 1st Congressional District primary runoff with fellow Republican Curtis Bostic, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.

Rich is a notable political player, who for decades has supported conservative causes, including term limits for politicians, limited government, property rights and school choice.

In 1992, he founded the nonprofit U.S. Term Limits, which advocates for term limits at all levels of government. In 1996, he founded another nonprofit called Americans for Limited Government. That nonprofit spent $1.4 million on independent expenditures to influence elections in 2010, according to documents it filed with the FEC.

A recent analysis by The State newspaper in South Carolina found that Rich contributed $153,000 to state legislative candidates during the 2012 election cycle. Rich used a network of limited liability companies to legally get around the state’s $3,500 per person per candidate contribution limit.

Reports by the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Center for Responsive Politics have also examined his influence on state and federal politics.

Neither Rich or Sanford immediately responded to requests for comment.

Dick Harpootlian, a trial lawyer and chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, told the Center for Public Integrity that it was “interesting but not surprising” that Rich made an eleventh-hour contribution to Sanford, who has also backed school choice measures.

“Howard Rich has been pressing this agenda for years,” Harpootlian said. “He’s got more clout than he should have but apparently not enough to get a voucher program passed.”

On his campaign website, Sanford describes himself as a “long-time advocate for market-based education reform at the state and federal level.”

Several other real estate developers have contributed the legal maximum of $2,600 to Sanford’s campaign during the past two weeks.

Among them:

  • Paul and Laura Jost of Florida
  • James Melvin Miles of Isle of Palms, S.C.-based Exclusive Properties LLC
  • Joe Eden, the South Carolina businessman who founded and chairs the board of directors of EDENS, which owns and operates 130 shopping centers in the United States

Miles told the Center for Public Integrity that Sanford won his support because he is “extremely fiscally conservative” and “a Christian” who deserves to be given a “break” after going through “some tough times.”

In 2009, Sanford resigned from a leadership role with the Republican Governors Association amid a scandal stemming from an affair with an Argentinean mistress. He and his wife divorced in 2010, and he went on to serve out the last year of his term in office.

Despite his troubles, Sanford won about 37 percent of the vote in the crowded March 19 GOP primary, well ahead of the 13 percent won by Bostic but not enough to avoid a runoff election.

Among Bostic’s late-game supporters are a pair of Republican congressmen. The campaign committee of former Rep. Henry Brown of South Carolina contributed $2,000 to Bostic on March 28, and Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., used his leadership PAC to give $1,000 on March 25. Also in the mix is the conservative 60 Plus Association, which reported spending nearly $2,700 on pro-Bostic telephone calls.

Bostic has additionally received substantial support from natural gas executive James Willard Kinzer of Kentucky and his family, as the Center for Public Integrity previously reported.

The winner of today’s primary runoff will on May 7 face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, for the seat formerly held by Tim Scott, who was elevated to the U.S. Senate by Gov. Nikki Haley after the resignation in January of Sen. Jim DeMint.

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Michael Beckel reported for the Center for Public Integrity from 2012 to 2017.