S.C. taxpayers will pick up the $100,000 tab for a group of German politicians to visit Grand Strand attractions and party at the Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort this fall.
The weeklong visit from Germany's Partnership of Parliaments is part of a controversial $10 million competitive grant program approved in June by a five-person state committee appointed by the governor and legislators.
Grant applications are submitted to the committee by nonprofit agencies or local governments. Legislators sponsor many of the applications and help push them through the approval process.
All told, public money will be used to pay for 214 projects statewide, including festivals, sports events and public works projects. Eleven groups and projects in Horry and Georgetown counties shared $420,275 in grants.
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The grants, funded by taxpayer dollars, have been derided by Gov. Mark Sanford and others as being a slush fund for legislators' pet projects. Sanford has said the pork-barrel spending often receives little or no oversight.
However, Horry County legislator Liston Barfield, R-Aynor, said the Germany grant might prompt more people from that country to vacation in the Myrtle Beach area.
Barfield sponsored the $100,000 grant, which was the largest for any area group or project.
“When most Germans come to America, they visit places that are advertised over there, like Los Angeles or Florida,” Barfield said. “I've been going to Germany for many years, and I've never seen one advertisement for Myrtle Beach.”
Partnership of Parliaments is a nongovernmental group open to politicians who are Germany's equivalent to state legislators. Politicians from the United States and Canada also can join. The group's mission, according to its Web site, is to “promote transatlantic dialogue, and to improve relations in the fields of politics, economy, and culture.”
Barfield, a member of Partnership of Parliaments, said he expects some of the approximately 120 Germans visiting for one week beginning Oct. 30 will go back and spread the word about the Grand Strand.
Others, however, question whether the money could have been better spent.
A $100,000 grant, for example, could have paid for a three-week radio and television ad campaign in new U.S. markets promoting airline service to Myrtle Beach, said Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.