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In addition to the financial and political favors she’s already alleged to have already received for betraying South Carolina’s economic and environmental interests, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley may reap yet another major reward from her “Savannah River Sellout.”

Specifically, her decision to accommodate the state of Georgia’s government-funded Savannah port expansion project – which will effectively kill a public-private port facility in Jasper County, S.C. – will benefit a pair of major players in Republican Party politics.

Specifically, it will help the energy/ manufacturing conglomerate run by brothers Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch – two of the nation’s most influential GOP donors and early supporters of the Tea Party movement.

Koch Industries – which is the second-largest privately-held company in America – owns GP Gypsum Corporation and Koch Materials Company, two companies which have extensive business with the Port of Savannah. In fact, both of those subsidiaries feature operations on prime real estate along the Savannah River.

Koch Industries also owns Georgia Pacific – the Atlanta-based paper, packaging and construction materials manufacturer that’s a huge user of both the Port of Savannah and the Port of Brunswick.

Nathan Deal

Not surprisingly, the Kochs are major supporters of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal – the politician who convinced Haley to have her S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) appointees reverse … err, “revisit” the agency’s prior rejection of permits for the Savannah port project.

In fact, Koch Companies Public Sector – the lobbying arm of the Koch empire – gave $25,000 to Deal’s inaugural committee.

Have the Koch Brothers given money to Haley? Not yet … at least not directly (that we know of).

However James Balloun – a sitting member of the Georgia Ports Authority who attended a recent fundraiser for Haley in Atlanta – is a former Georgia-Pacific board member. News of this controversial fundraiser was first reported on (and first confirmed) by FITS.

“There were no ties to the ports,” Haley said of the fundraiser, but beyond Balloun’s presence at the event four of the eleven contributions that the governor has made public came from the law firm of McKenna Long and Aldridge – which has extensive infrastructure and maritime interests. Not only that, one of the firm’s partners – Keith W. Mason – served for seven years on the Georgia Ports Authority board (including two years as its chairman).

In addition to the alleged fundraiser(s), our sources say that current Georgia Ports Authority chairman Alec L. Poitevint II – a major GOP donor who will select speakers for next year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida – has been negotiating with Haley and her political consultant Jon Lerner to land the governor a coveted prime time speaking gig at the event.

Poitevint so far isn’t denying the claims.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of its reporters “asked Poitevint several weeks ago whether there was any horse-trading to encourage Haley to shift her position.”

Poitevint’s reply?

“She’s a nice lady.”

Look, we’ve got nothing against the Koch Brothers. Sure, they are rumored to have been the funding source behind a website that tried (and failed) to take us out last year, but we don’t hold that against them.

Competition is a good thing (like Nikki Haley says) … and you’ll never hear us begrudging the influence of money in politics.

Also, by and large the Koch Brothers appear to support fiscally conservative, libertarian-leaning candidates – which we obviously encourage.

But the Kochs’ connections to the Port of Savannah cannot be ignored. Nor can the ideological demarcation lines of this particular debate.

By advancing the Savannah expansion project, Haley’s SCDHEC board paved the way for a government-funded port project in Savannah that doesn’t serve the taxpayers’ interest, doesn’t serve the nation’s economic interests and doesn’t serve the region’s environmental interests.

On top of that, the “Savannah River Sellout” puts the kibosh on a viable private sector project that would have brought thousands of jobs to South Carolina, which boasts one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

Ordinarily, that’s the sort of thing that “libertarians” like the Koch brothers would be up in arms over … however in this case we suspect their financial interests will keep them on the sidelines. In fact, they may even wind up rewarding Haley for her efforts on Georgia’s behalf.

“It may be a good move for Nikki Haley’s political future to play to the Koch brothers, but Democrats and Republicans alike in South Carolina understand that this decision is a jobs killer for our state,” S.C. Rep. Boyd Brown said.

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