Corruption is crippling South Carolina
By Phil Noble
The ever deepening and broadening corruption scandal that is unfolding daily across the front pages of newspapers is crippling our state.
It is crippling us in ways big and small – seen and unseen.
It does not have to be this way.
Let’s begin with an ever so brief summary of the scandals by putting things in two different but interrelated (slop) buckets: the legislature and the utilities.
First the legislature. We see daily how the legislature has kept all the money and all the power in the Statehouse where they can auction it off to the highest bidder. By all accounts, the biggest auctioneer is Richard Quinn and Associates and his legislator son, Rick Quinn, who keep a generous cut of the auction price for themselves.
The folks on the ‘selling’ side are Quinn’s clients who include: Gov. Henry McMaster, Sen. Lindsay Graham, Rep. Joe Wilson, Attorney General Alan Wilson, Treasurer Curtis Loftis, Superintendent to Education Molly Spearman, Pres. Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell, and more than three dozen members of the legislature and other elected politicians in our state’s Congressional Delegation in Washington.
On the ‘buying’ side are those that benefit from the favorable actions of the politicians and include: South Carolina Electric and Gas and Santee Cooper (more on them later), The State Ports Authority, University of South Carolina, S.C. Trial Lawyers Association, a variety of health care companies and dozens of others.
So far, the legislative scandal has ensnared former Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell, former House Majority Leaders Jim Merrill and Rick Quinn and Sen. John Courson. (Courson is contesting his charges and we should presume him innocent until proven guilty.)
And there are no doubt dozens of others, Democrats and Republicans, who are waking up in the middle of the night with the cold sweats worrying about what may happen next.
The safe bet is that a lot will happen next. Published accounts are that in addition to Solicitor David Pascoe’s staff, another four solicitors’ offices are investigating as well as the FBI, the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and probably others. The buzz is that at least 10 or 15 other legislators will be indicted and that does not included others in state agencies and businesses.
The second major scandal is the $9 billion (maybe as much as $17 billion) utilities scandal of South Carolina Electric and Gas and Santee Cooper’s failed nuclear debacle in Jenkinsville. The utilities were given a blank check by the legislature to charge its customers in advance for all the cost of building the plants with an additional guaranteed profit of 10.25 percent.
Estimates are that the average family of four in the state will be stuck with a $9,000 bill that they may be paying off for 60 years.
And to add outrage to injury, Lonnie Carter, President of Santee Cooper (and a state employee) walked off with a $16 million golden parachute. And, the five top executives at SCE&G pocketed $21 million in so-called performance bonuses while the nuclear project went down the tubes.
And as part of the transactions, the utilities have given Gov. McMaster, the Congressional Delegation in Washington and legislators – Democrats and Republicans – millions in campaign contributions. In fact, of the 32 members of the legislative committee that are to ‘investigate’ the scandal, all of them have received campaign contributions from either SCE&G, the co-op allies of Santee Cooper – or both.
Only four legislators have agreed to give the money back. All 160 members of the legislature that have received campaign contributions should give the money back – or even better, give the money to charity.
These millions in campaign contributions does not include untold millions more in unreported dark money payments to legislators for retainers, consulting contracts and such. All legislators should report the dark money they have received as well.
All this adds up to little more than millions and millions of dollars of ‘legal’ bribery.
This corruption is directly and personally hurting you, your family and our state in other big and small ways – seen and unseen.
As bad as these scandals are, the bigger problem is that these scandals keep us from getting all of the good things that we want and deserve – good schools, honest utility rates, safe highways, secure pension for teachers and state employees, lower taxes on the middle class and small business, good jobs to provide economic security for our families – and on and on it goes.
And, there are lots of other ways that we are paying dearly – that we never see.
For a number of years, I did a lot of business overseas in over 45 countries. As a part of accepted international business etiquette, whenever I would go to meet with global business leaders, knowing where I came from they invariably had done a Google search on South Carolina and read about what was happening in our state.
When our state’s business people go abroad today – they soon learn that their global counterparts know all about the corruption, shady dealings and general sleaziness of doing business in our state – they have read all about it online in our state’s newspapers.
In the last few days, a former business colleague in Brussels asked me, “Has South Carolina become a Third World banana republic?” That is a direct quote.
Every day there are thousands of such business leaders, investors and government leaders Googling South Carolina – and asking the same question. Too often, they then quickly click over to the next state on their prospect list of where they are considering doing business. We never see it.
And, these scandals are debasing the moral character of our state. What kind of lesson is this to our young people when they see our political leaders taking bribes, and our major business leaders lying to their customers and ‘stealing’ our money?
How should we respond? The answer is simple: We want our money back, and someone (probably lots of people) need to go to jail.
It does not have to be this way. It really doesn’t.
We can demand more. We can vote the crooked politicians out of office and we can demand these corrupt utility executives roll back our utility rates and give back their millions in bonuses and golden parachutes.
If we don’t, they won’t.
It’s up to us.
Phil Noble has a technology firm in Charleston, is founder of World Class Scholars and writes a weekly column for the S.C. Press Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and get his columns at www.PhilNoble.com.