According to interviews and public records, the Save 5 Points campaign, a mostly student-run organization, has operated as an informal student wing of city councilman Daniel Rickenmann’s mayoral campaign since its founding in August.
The group is funded by local bars and private donors to host events and giveaways, which cater to USC students under the message of saving Five Points' nightlife from powerful politicians, according to the group's Instagram and website.
The combination of effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and legal actions challenging liquor licenses shuttered many businesses in the Five Points area since 2020, including multiple student-favorite bars such as Pavlov’s Bar.
Save 5 Points, Rickenmann’s campaign and local bars in Five Points have also collaborated in other ways. Breakers, Jake’s, Cotton Gin and Bird Dog, bars located in the center of the district, have allowed students with a “Save5Points Pass” to skip their lines, according to a post on the group's Instagram. These passes are acquired by bringing an “I Voted” sticker to the Rickenmann campaign office and entering their giveaway.
The Instagram account has posted multiple interviews with Rickenmann and endorsements from prominent USC students and alumni, including Alex Harrell, USC student body president, and Kate Turner, former USC student body treasurer.
The group officially endorsed Rickenmann’s campaign on Oct. 3, but the Save 5 Points logo has included the phrase “Vote Rickenmann'' since the group’s conception, according to its Instagram.
The group’s website, save5points.com, formerly included a disclosure that it was “Paid for by Save 5 Points, LLC 2021.” This LLC does not legally exist in South Carolina, according to the South Carolina Secretary of State’s office.
The mention of the non-existent LLC was removed from the website at the beginning of November, and it was replaced by a disclosure which reads, “Paid for by Save 5 Points.”
Group organizers Trace Whetsell, a marketing graduate from Limestone University, and Chloe Mayes, a third-year political science student at USC, said they have not used an LLC for funding the organization.
“Most of (the funding) is, like, donations,” Mayes said. “We’ve had donors from bars and things like that.”
In one example of these donations to the group fueling engagement with students, Mayes said the group has a “contact” for the Fireball merchandise being given away through the account.
Despite existing as a separate entity from Rickenmann’s formal mayoral campaign, its funding has allowed Save 5 Points to run a campaign urging USC students to vote for Rickenmann in many instances.
The Save 5 Points Instagram page directed its followers to bring their “I Voted” stickers to 1404 Gervais Street, Rickenmann’s campaign office, “for a chance to win BIG.” Volunteers with the group have also participated in phone banks for Rickenmann, according to Mayes.
As reported in a story by the Post and Courier, Save 5 Points was tabling on Oct. 1 in front of the Russell House on Greene Street. The table was manned by two men, Trace Whetsell and Ryan Albus, neither of whom are USC students or alumni. These men were from Starboard Communications, a Columbia-based political consulting firm. Whetsell’s father is Walter Whetsell, the president of Starboard Communications.
Starboard Communications was hired by Rickenmann’s campaign for campaign services in April and has been paid over $100,000, according to campaign finance disclosures.
Save 5 Points worked with Starboard as a part of its efforts to elect Rickenmann, according to Whetsell.
Mayes described the Save 5 Points group as “working very closely with his (Rickenmann’s) campaign” and said the relationship between the groups was “pretty linear.”
Since the Columbia mayoral race is a local election, it is governed by South Carolina’s election laws, which currently have no legally enforceable requirement for political groups to disclose their funding or spending.
The only political organizations required to make financial disclosures under state law are formal electoral campaigns such as the Rickenmann for Mayor campaign. Since Save 5 Points is a separate group, it is not required to make any financial disclosures.
This legal arrangement means there is no way for the public to know exactly who funds Save 5 Points, or many other political groups in the Palmetto State.
Rickenmann received the most votes during the first round of the mayoral election on Nov. 2, but did not amass a majority share. He is currently in a run-off race against city councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine. The run-off election will be held on Nov. 16.