State House

RankinGate: Santee Cooper Denies ‘Conflict Of Interest’ Allegations

Oversight Committee approves multimillion-dollar ‘gratis lease’ for nonprofit operated by Senator Luke Rankin’s wife.

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A nonprofit operated by the wife of an eight-term South Carolina senator is the official recipient of a taxpayer-funded property “gifted” by a debt-addled institution overseen by the same senator. 

Last Wednesday (March 20, 2024), the S.C. Joint Bond Review Committee (SCJBRC) approved a multimillion-dollar transfer of waterfront property to the Grand Strand Humane Society (GSHS) despite evidence of an incestuous scandal uncovered by taxpayers back in January.

The 10-acre property, with an estimated market value of $5 million to $8 million, was donated after GSHS president Lindsey Bonds Rankin texted her husband’s business partner who happens to be chairman of the state’s largest power provider, Santee Cooper.

Of interest? This government-run utility remains $6.9 billion in debt following its starring role in NukeGate — the failed construction of two AP1000 nuclear reactors which cost the Palmetto State approximately $2,500 per taxpayer when Santee Cooper’s joint venture with SCANA imploded in 2017. 

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Hailed as the largest business failure in South Carolina history, state lawmakers spent $15 million trying to sell Santee Cooper before the S.C. General Assembly “compromised” on retaining state ownership and reforming its board of directors starting June 8, 2021. 

Emphasis on reform …

The following autumn, Santee Cooper received a $450 million bailout from the same politicians who rejected a $15.9 billion purchase proposal from NextEra Energy.

Rather than bolster its fiscal position, Santee Cooper entered the property management business and has since doled out forty-one (41) parcels of premium property at no cost to “certain organizations” – furthering the “Santee Cooper purpose” across South Carolina. 

Or, at least that’s according to the utility’s president and CEO upon ratepayers’ discovery of a so-called “conflict of interest” between Santee Cooper and the wife of its perpetual legislative champion: S.C. Senate judiciary chairman Luke A. Rankin.

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ALL THE KING’S MEN

RankinGate: Neighbors V. Santee Cooper
(Andrew Fancher/FITSNews)

When incredulous homeowners of Waterside Drive were first notified of the humane society’s approval to install a four-acre animal shelter within 80 feet of their backyards, they bombarded Santee Cooper with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

What these FOIAs uncovered were months upon months of informal correspondences between Lindsey Rankin and her “friend,” Santee Cooper second vice chairman David F. Singleton.

A proliferation of emoji-addled messages revealed Lindsey handpicked the property in question — and directed Singleton to enable this expansion of her “important organization” despite zoning constraints.

“Check this out [with Horry County] … do this below the radar,” Singleton wrote to Lindsey in August 2023 — as the site’s zoning was miraculously amended within the Horry County Planning Commission to enable the GSHS expansion.

Worthy of attention? GSHS was condemned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) when local website MyrtleBeachSC.com uncovered Lindsey’s alleged “black market experiment” with a Chinese pharmaceutical that killed four animals and nearly bankrupted the nonprofit in 2021.

On the brink of insolvency, GSHS was “proudly supported” by Luke Rankin during a now-unpublished campaign advertisement recorded within his wife’s facility – and thereafter publicized by MyrtleBeachSC.com founder David L. Hucks in January 2022.

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While the utility’s affinity for GSHS remains unclear, it’s worth repeating that Singleton works as a “managing member” for Columbia Farms Realty Holdings LLC — a PeeDee-based realty firm in which Rankin has amassed 50 percent ownership since employing Singleton in 2006.

Come May 6, 2011, Singleton was “interviewed” by a governmental agency responsible for regulating utilities within the Palmetto State and was thereupon approved by former S.C. governor Nikki Haley for a position on Santee Cooper’s Board of Directors.

While democratically appointed at a cursory glance, it’s worth noting that Luke Rankin remains chairman of the very subcommittee responsible for nominating his business partner to Santee Cooper’s board.

Ratepayers have since emphasized that Singleton, Santee Cooper first vice chairman Stephen H. Mudge and Santee Cooper board member Dan J. Ray have contributed “at least” $6,100 to Luke’s reelection efforts, according to data from the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC).

Despite the aforementioned alliances, though, Santee Cooper’s chief public affairs officer Pamela Williams concluded Singleton’s “friendship” with Lindsey did not constitute a conflict of interest as neither stood to “benefit financially” from a gratis lease.

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STANDING-ROOM ONLY

Santee Cooper
Ratepayers opposing Santee Cooper’s transaction on March 20, 2024.
(Andrew Fancher/FITSNews)

Last week, the SCJBRC — a joint committee of the S.C. General Assembly — authorized Santee Cooper’s gratis lease to the GSHS for a term of 40 years at a whopping $1 per year.

Ahead of the ten-person panel’s approval of this project, Santee Cooper’s chief commercial officer was called by S.C. Senate finance committee chairman Harvey Peeler to address the “conflicts of interest” allegations raised by Waterside Drive residents.

Marty Watson thereafter stated that Santee Cooper had hired an independent, third-party law firm to review the matter – and that the firm subsequently determined “no violation of applicable” conflict of interest laws was committed throughout the course of Singleton’s incestuous endorsement.

While Senator Ronnie Cromer proposed the JBRC “postpone voting” on Santee Cooper’s transaction, representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter proposed that Santee Cooper “tweak” their corporate policies to prevent the legislative panel from “being pitted against locals.”

Senators Peeler, Katrina Shealy, Thomas Alexander, Nikki Setzler and representatives Bruce Bannister and Leon Stavrinakis voted in favor of the state-funded proposal. Senator Cromer and representative Heather Ammons Crawford voted against it. Cobb-Hunter abstained.

“My 90-year-old mother is on fixed income and stands to lose 20 to 30 percent of her property value when this facility is installed,” said John Dewberry following Wednesday’s approval. “As far as I’m concerned? Everybody who voted ‘yes’ upstairs has just agreed to harm a 90-year-old widow and strip her of her net worth.”

After interviewing Newberry on S.C. State House grounds, the author was approached by Santee Cooper’s corporate communications director, Mollie Gore, who thereafter volunteered herself for an interview on the aforementioned transaction.

Unfortunately, the offer was revoked when the author identified himself as a FITSNews journalist — to which the state employee deemed our coverage of her embattled utility and eight-term senator as “not fair.”

PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANDREW FANCHER

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SANTEE COOPER STATEMENT …

(Provided)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Andrew Fancher (Travis Bell)

Andrew Fancher is a Lone Star Emmy award-winning journalist from Dallas, Texas. Cut from a bloodline of outlaws and lawmen alike, he was the first of his family to graduate college which was accomplished with honors. Got a story idea or news tip for Andy? Email him directly and connect with him socially across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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1 comment

Barbara Huckaby Top fan March 26, 2024 at 3:26 pm

What is being done about this gross abuse of power by Rankin and his wife?? Why are they getting away with this??

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