Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying Soared In South Carolina During Covid-19 Crush

Santee Cooper among those shelling out big bucks to influence lawmakers …

Not content with sticking taxpayers with the bill for health insurance benefits that its leaders were not entitled to receive, South Carolina’s spectacularly failed government-run utility Santee Cooper is also using public money to pay its lobbying team.

According to reporter Rick Brundrett of The (Columbia, S.C.) Nerve, Santee Cooper paid $56,917 between January and May of 2020 to lobbyists Geoffrey Penland and Yvette Rowland.

And that represents only a portion of their compensation.

“The spread of the coronavirus in South Carolina didn’t stop public agencies’ spending on lobbying lawmakers and other state government officials,” Brundrett noted.

What were Penland and Rowland paid to do?

Um, lie.

But don’t take our word for that … consider the remarks of S.C. House speaker Jay Lucas earlier this year.

“Attempting to have an open, honest and productive conversation with Santee Cooper has been exceedingly difficult and disappointing,” Lucas wrote in a letter to the utility back in April. “It has become my experience and the experience of House leadership and staff that the representations made by Santee Cooper board members, leadership and staff are not reliable.”

Lucas went on to note that Santee Cooper was engaged in “a coordinated and purposeful effort to frustrate the will of the South Carolina General Assembly.”

In fact, the utility is still lying to lawmakers – not to mention overtly defying them.

According to Brundrett, Penland and Rowland draw annual salaries of $175,047 and $160,000, respectively (not counting benefits). Of course that information is dated because Santee Cooper is exempt from disclosing this information to the S.C. salary database.

Which makes it harder to follow the money …

Gotta love the “transparency,” right?

And remember, all of this is coming from a “rogue agency” whose negligence on an abandoned nuclear power project three-and-a-half years ago cost South Carolina taxpayers and ratepayers upwards of $10 billion.

A tab which is still growing …

Astoundingly, state lawmakers continue to tolerate such behavior even as Santee Cooper engages in monopolistic behavior that is killing South Carolina jobs and saddling residents in its service area with unfair fees.

The Santee Cooper lobbying tab was part of a whopping $812,661 spent on lobbying by state and local governmental entities between January 1 and May 31, 2020, according to Brundrett’s report.

A big chunk of that was obviously Santee Cooper lobbying activity, but other taxpayer cash was doled out by government-run institutions of higher learning like Clemson University – which receives tens of millions of state tax dollars even thought its board operates extra-legally.

Like Santee Cooper, we have argued for years that such bureaucracies do not perform core functions of government and should be offloaded to the private sector as soon as possible.

In the meantime, they should certainly disclose all of their efforts to deprive taxpayers of even more of their money.

Which it appears they are not doing …

“The reported lobbyist payments represent only a small part of the total spent by some public agencies to influence state officials,” Brundrett noted in his report. “Clemson University, for example, reported to the State Ethics Commission that it paid three lobbyists who, according to the university’s website, are employed by the university a total of $25,065 for the first five months of this year.”

One of those lobbyists reportedly made $248,018 annually from taxpayers – which would clearly exceed the amount the agency reported in lobbying expenses.

This news outlet has consistently argued against taxpayer-funded lobbying.

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical,” founding father Thomas Jefferson once wrote. 

We concur … especially when the “propagation” is empowering entities like Santee Cooper, the atrociously managed S.C. Ports Authority (SCPA), the S.C. Research Authority (SCRA) and colleges and universities, none of which are performing core functions of government.

We would further condemn the $80,000 citizens of North Myrtle Beach, S.C. were forced to pay so their government could hire a lobbyist to advocate on behalf of them paying higher taxes.

Along with the Santee Cooper payments, that strikes us as the very soul of the Jeffersonian abhorrence of such corrupt arrangements …




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