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South Carolina Chamber Of Commerce Drama: The Roots

Nikki Haley’s B-team has torched the reputation of this once-powerful entity …

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For those of you new to South Carolina politics, former Palmetto State governor Nikki Haley won office in 2010 as a Tea Party reformer – one ostensibly committed to getting rid of crony capitalism. The über-liberal S.C. Chamber of Commerce didn’t like the cut of Haley’s jib, and so it endorsed her Democratic opponent (state senator Vincent Sheheen) in that election.  

“The state chamber is a big fan of bailouts and corporate welfare, so it’s no surprise that they would prefer a liberal like Vincent Sheheen over a conservative like Nikki Haley,” the future governor’s campaign spokesman said at the time.

We agreed with that assessment … praising Haley for “challenging this brood of special interest vipers.”

“They’ve been on the leading edge of the (S.C. General Assembly’s) command economic scheming for years, aggressively supporting new spending and bureaucratic expansion as a way of ‘stimulating’ government growth at the expense of the small businesses they’re supposed to be supporting,” we wrote at the time.

And what was true then is truer now, sadly …

Of course between now and then an interesting evolution took place. Haley went from being an opponent of crony capitalism to one of its most aggressive advocates. And the chamber went from opposing her and endorsing her rival to giving her awards … and basically handing over control of the organization to her and her donors.

(Click to view)

(Via: Columbia SC Photographer Travis Bell)

“We are blessed to live in a place where our governor has put her heart and soul into making our state and the business community better,” former Haley staffer Ted Pitts said in naming his ex-boss the chamber’s 2015 “Public Servant of the Year.”

Pitts – who was tapped to lead the organization that same year – is one of several former Haley staffers occupying positions of influence within the chamber. Others include the group’s top legislative staffer Swati Patel and ex-Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey, who is a member of its board.

Godfrey, incidentally, is the ex-Haley spokesman quoted at the outset of this article bashing the group for its support of “corporate welfare.”

Nothing like the courage of one’s convictions, right?

Anyway, Godfrey is currently senior vice president for corporate affairs at Nephron Pharmaceuticals – one of the Palmetto State’s most notorious crony capitalist beneficiaries.

Directing the machinations of all these former Haley staffers has been Lou Kennedy, Nephron’s president and chief executive officer. Until recently, Kennedy was chairwoman of the state chamber’s powerful board, too.

As we noted in a recent post, Kennedy is a key cog in the Palmetto State’s crony capitalist cabal – a class of select special interests which continues to receive unfair competitive advantages at the expense of taxpayers and small businesses.

(Click to view)

(Via: University of South Carolina)

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

In her leadership role with the chamber, Kennedy has been at the heart of the organization’s ongoing drama with state lawmakers – which this news outlet has meticulously chronicled over the last few weeks.

To recap: S.C. House leaders issued an ultimatum to Kennedy recently regarding the alleged lack of professionalism exhibited by some of her staff members. This ultimatum – delivered by S.C. speaker of the House Jay Lucas – came just weeks after the chamber led a failed bid to oust powerful S.C. senate judiciary chairman Luke Rankin. The campaign against Rankin was pushed by Pitts over the expressed reservations of several of his board members, we are told.

With leaders of both legislative bodies basically declaring war on the chamber, its board has found itself in a seriously compromised position. Meanwhile, other “economic development” groups have rushed to create distance between themselves and the organization – with one lobbyist telling us the chamber’s endorsement had become a “kiss of death” within the S.C. General Assembly.

In other words, under the “leadership” of Kennedy and her band of Haley-ites, the chamber has gone from being the most influential corporate advocacy organization in the state to … well … not.

Also, the chamber’s precipitous decline is transpiring at a time when businesses in South Carolina desperately need protection from potential litigiousness tied to the coronavirus pandemic. As of this writing, the Palmetto State is one of the only states in America without a comprehensive post-Covid tort protection plan. The chamber had been leading an effort to pass such a plan … but its recent legislative implosion has derailed that effort.

As of this writing, the only response from Kennedy and the chamber to the organization’s cratering legislative fortunes has been the lateral transfer of a junior staffer.

Legislative leaders have made it clear to us that such a response is “insufficient.”

“Moving deck chairs around,” one House leader told us.

What will sate legislative leaders?

“They want Pitts’ head,” a source familiar with the ongoing discussions told us.

In other words, they want new leadership.

Kennedy is disinclined to fire Pitts, however, because she reportedly fears it will harm his aspirations for the U.S. congressional seat currently held by veteran congressman Joe Wilson.

“Working for Haley may have spoiled him,” one legislative leader told us, referring to Pitts. “If you’re not Haley you can’t pretend to be Haley.”

The same could be said for Lou Kennedy …

Stay tuned … in addition to keeping tabs on the latest chamber drama, this news outlet plans on refocusing some of our attention on Kennedy and Nephron Pharmaceuticals in the weeks to come. We held this company to account before … and we look forward to doing so again.

In fact with the chamber’s stock continuing to collapse, many of Kennedy’s erstwhile legislative and corporate allies have proven particularly eager to share what they know of this crony capitalist company with us.

-FITSNews

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Banner: Columbia SC Photographer Travis Bell