SC Politics

South Carolina Crony Capitalist Saga: Latest Installment Of ‘As The Chamber Turns’

Reshuffling? Resignations?

This news outlet published a pair of stories earlier this month (here and here) documenting “rising tensions” between leaders in the South Carolina General Assembly and top staffers at the S.C. Chamber of Commerce (ostensibly the Palmetto State’s most influential “business” lobbying group).

While it remains unclear what sparked the drama, House leaders reportedly issued an ultimatum to influential chamber board members including Lou Kennedy of Nephron Pharmaceuticals. Kennedy is part of the Palmetto State’s crony capitalist cabal – a select class of special interests that continues to receive unfair competitive advantages at the expense of taxpayers and small businesses.

As long as Kennedy and her corporate cronies continue getting their handouts, the chamber is content to support all manner of failed government expansions and anti-competitive tax policies for the rest of us.

Anyway, as we reported at the time House leaders were irate with chamber leader Ted Pitts and government relations staffers Swati Patel and Sarah Cohen over an alleged lack of “professionalism.” We have yet to identify the specific source of the tension – or the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – but the takeaway from the meeting was that House leaders would no longer be taking meetings with the chamber’s government relations team.

The declaration came just weeks after the chamber helped lead an unsuccessful effort to oust powerful S.C. senate judiciary chairman Luke Rankin – a campaign that was pushed by Pitts over the expressed reservations of several of his board members, we are told.

With enemies accumulating in both bodies of the S.C. General Assembly, the chamber’s high-profile push to amend the Palmetto State’s liability laws to protect businesses from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic has found itself in serious jeopardy.

Meanwhile, other business lobbyists across the Palmetto State have rushed to create distance between themselves and the organization … believing its involvement with their issues is tantamount to a “kiss of death.”

The drama has resulted in at least one confirmed change to the chamber’s leadership lineup. At the time of the spat with House leaders, Cohen’s job title was “director of government relations.” As of this writing, however, she is listed on the chamber website as the organization’s director of marketing and public relations.

Cohen has also reportedly deregistered as a lobbyist with the organization, according to sources at the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC).

As for Pitts, we have received numerous reports that he is in the process of seeking “other opportunities,” but our sources close to the chamber have not confirmed that a change in leadership is imminent. Meanwhile, rumors that Pitts was given a thirty-day deadline to find another position have also been shot down by our chamber sources – although legislative leaders in both chambers are reportedly pushing for such an ultimatum.

Wherever he winds up, conventional wisdom holds that Pitts is biding his time in the hopes of campaigning for the U.S. House of Representatives seat currently held by veteran congressman Joe Wilson – who is facing a stronger-than-expected Democratic challenger this fall.

Will this dust-up hurt Pitts’ future congressional prospects? Yes …

The former state lawmaker was already likely to encounter difficulty explaining his tenure as the state’s most visible crony capitalist to conservative voters … now he runs the risk of falling out of favor with establishment “Republicans.”

How does one win a GOP primary without the support of at least one of those voting blocs? They don’t …




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