With each new revelation, our state's ongoing scandal of SCANA, Santee Cooper and their political dealing is providing new insights into how thoroughly corrupt our state's political system has become.
What we are learning is really disgusting - and it's getting worse.
With the Watergate scandal, we learned that the best way to uncover and understand a political scandal is to "follow the money."
When we follow the money in our state's utilities scandal, we find that Gov. Henry McMaster, the Legislature and our Congressional Delegation are essentially wholly owned subsidiaries of the utilities. The utilities have "bought" the support or silence of these politicians who are supposed to be looking out for the people's interest.
This week, The State did a devastating story that followed the money. Here's a summary of what they found:
- SCANA has donated at least $1.25 million to S.C. lawmakers and statewide candidates since 2000.
- Other contributions - almost $80,000 - went to legislators on a committee that names the members of a state board that regulates SCANA.
- Still other contributions - more than $90,000 - went to 31 of the 32 legislators now trying to unravel how the plan to add two reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville failed.
- SCANA's contributions skyrocketed by almost 300 percent - to $110,000 - in the year before state lawmakers passed the 2007 law that allowed the utility to charge its customers in advance for the Fairfield County reactors.
- In June, SCANA and its subsidiaries, political action committees and employees showered the state's chief executive (McMaster) with at least $115,000 in donations. It is the most the company has given to one candidate in at least two decades, records show, driving speculation the company was trying to buy political cover.
- Since 2009, SCANA has spent $1.5 million on Statehouse lobbyists, employing from eight to 10 in any given year.
- SCANA has given money to more than 320 state candidates since 2000.
- Those donations include more than $1 million since 2006, the year before S.C. lawmakers passed the utility-friendly Base Load Review Act.
- Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, the Edgefield Republican who co-chairs the Senate panel investigating the V.C. Summer debacle, has received $7,300 since 2006. Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, the Lexington Democrat who co-chairs that panel, got $6,250.
- The company (SCANA) also has paid an unspecified amount to a powerful political consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates. That firm, which also helps elect legislators and statewide officials, is under investigation as part of an ongoing Statehouse public corruption probe.
A Post and Courier story showed that in recent years the nine members of the South Carolina Congressional Delegation have received over $630,000 in campaign and other contributions during the time that SCANA was seeking a special tax break from Congress. Three of the politicians have stock in SCANA, and best I know, none recused themselves from working on behalf of SCANA to secure this special multi-million tax break.
And now, the silence they "bought" with their money to politicians. As far as I can determine from published news accounts:
- None of these politicians have called for the resignation of SCANA and Santee Cooper's board of directors or top management.
- None of these politicians have publicly condemned former Santee Cooper President Lonnie Carter's $16 million golden parachute and demanded that he give the money back. (Carter was a state employee.)
- None of these politicians have publicly condemned the SCANA executives for giving themselves more than $21 million in performance bonuses during the time that the nuclear project was failing and demanded they give the money back.
- None of these politicians have voluntarily publicly disclosed any "dark money" they have received from the utilities in the form of unreported retainer fees, consulting contracts or other unreported payments from utilities to themselves, their businesses or their immediate family.
- Only four members of the Legislature have returned contributions or given the money to charity that they received from the utilities. They are Sen. Mike Fanning and Reps. Bill Hixon, Russell Ott and Micah Caskey.
Note to legislators - It's possible there are legislators that have not been silent about these five issues listed above. If so, please send me the news story of your comments or actions, and I will issue a correction and publish the information in a future column.
I leave it to you the readers to decide: Is the Legislature and these politicians "wholly owned subsidiaries" of the utilities? Is the money they are accepting "legalized bribery"? Are the utilities "buying" the silence of the politicians who refuse to condemn their actions?
We deserve better.
It does not have to be this way.
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.