CONTRIBUTIONS RAISE QUESTIONS
Earlier this week, we reported exclusively on efforts by embattled South Carolina highway commissioner John Hardee to raise campaign funds for imperiled incumbent “Republican” governor Henry McMaster.
Hardee is the son-in-law of liberal “Republican” State Senate president Hugh Leatherman – one of the chief architects (and plunderers) of the Palmetto State’s bloated bureaucratic state. For years, he’s been among the fiscally liberal members of the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) commission who – despite receiving billions of dollars in additional funding each year – have abjectly failed to prioritize infrastructure spending based on need.
That failure is about to be put on steroids, by the way.
Hardee’s status on the SCDOT commission is McMaster’s hands – and good government advocates are urging the governor to replace this card-carrying member of the Palmetto State’s failed status quo with someone who can be trusted to watch out for the best interests of this state’s citizens and taxpayers.
Even decidedly non-conservative columnist Cindi Ross Scoppe of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper acknowledged recently that Hardee has been on the SCDOT commission for far too long and “the only way to be sure his never-ending service ends is for Mr. McMaster to end it.”
State Senator Tom Davis – a fiscal conservative likely to enter the GOP gubernatorial race against McMcMaster next month – agrees. Not only that, he believes Hardee’s solicitation of contributions on behalf of the incumbent governor is inappropriate.
“This is precisely the kind of business-as-usual our state can no longer afford,” Davis said. “I call on Governor McMaster to remove Mr. Hardee from the SCDOT commission – now. As far as that goes, he ought to demand resignations from ALL the commissioners and reappoint only the ones who share his statewide vision. All the work done by activists to get the governor some degree of SCDOT oversight power is for naught if he refuses to use it.”
The choice confronting McMaster is clear: He can either serve the people or serve the special interests.
No one can serve two masters, right?
Nope … and with each campaign finance connection we make, it’s becoming clear which master McMaster is serving.
As it turns out, the SCDOT commission isn’t the only failed infrastructure bureaucracy which has been instrumental in filling McMaster’s campaign war chest.
Last March, McMaster removed Vince Graham from his role as chairman of the S.C. State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) and replaced him with John White, an influential attorney from Spartanburg, S.C.
For those of you unfamiliar with the SIB, it’s a glorified slush fund that uses existing government revenue to finance the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of long-term bonds – which in turn fund large-scale highway and bridge projects. Unfortunately, most of these projects are approved on the basis of political considerations – not the prioritized infrastructure needs of South Carolina citizens and taxpayers.
Which is why the Palmetto State’s roads and bridges remain in deplorable condition despite massive increases in spending.
Anyway, this fund was the subject of a heated debate in 2016 when Leatherman (below) attempted to route $200 million in new and constitutionally dubious borrowing into its coffers.
(Click to view)
(Via Travis Bell Photography)
His effort was successfully blocked by Davis – with a capable assist from former Senate majority leader Harvey Peeler.
The constitutionality of this board’s borrowing is once again coming under the microscope in the aftermath of the 2017 gas tax law – which our website’s founding editor Will Folks is currently suing to block.
McMaster’s changing of the guard at SIB was a coup for Leatherman – and a boon for his campaign war chest.
Less than two months after McMaster’s appointment of White, several attorneys at the latter’s law firm – Harrison, White, Smith and Coggins – made generous contributions to McMaster’s reelection effort.
Ben Harrison, one of the partners at White’s firm, donated $2,000 to McMaster’s campaign on April 27. That same day Wes Kissinger, another attorney at the firm, donated $2,000. Danny R. Smith, another partner at the firm, gave $2,500. His wife, Rebecca Smith, chipped in another $2,000.
A few days later, attorney Allison Dunham (another lawyer at White’s firm) donated $1,000 to McMaster’s campaign. Meanwhile White’s brother – attorney David G. White – popped in $2,000 that same day.
Not long after that, White’s son-in-law – Spartanburg developer John Montgomery – gave $3,500 to McMaster’s campaign. His wife, Belle Montgomery, gave another $1,000.
That’s $16,000 right there … and we’re told thousands more was bundled by White and his allies on behalf of McMaster’s candidacy.
Were these contributions payback for White’s appointment?
We’re not necessarily saying that, but we are saying McMaster’s acceptance of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from White’s law firm and his family members reeks of insider deal-making (similar to Hardee’s solicitation of campaign contributions on McMaster’s behalf).
It’s also further evidence that McMaster intends to do Leatherman’s bidding when it comes to South Carolina’s infrastructure funding debate – something we sniffed out months ago with his hurried “veto” of the gas tax bill.
McMaster is one of four announced candidates for governor in 2018. The others? Attorney Catherine Templeton of Mount Pleasant, lieutenant governor Kevin Bryant of Anderson and former lieutenant governor Yancey McGill of Kingstree.
So far all of the announced candidates are seeking the “Republican” gubernatorial nod. No Democrats have announced their intention to run, leading many to believe the state’s perpetual minority party is privately supporting McMaster.
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