The power company under fire for a botched plan to build two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County has donated at least $1.25 million to S.C. lawmakers and statewide candidates since 2000.
Campaign contributions from Cayce-based SCANA boosted the campaigns of key legislators who pushed a law that, critics say, gave the utility a blank check to raise power rates on customers with little oversight.
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
Spokesman Eric Boomhower said none of the contributions by SCANA, its political action committees or employees were “made to any official to support the passage or defeat of any specific legislation, or to advocate on behalf of our company.”
However, critics say the utility’s campaign contributions raise questions about what it expected in return.
“They don’t do this for good government,” said Frank Knapp, president and chief executive of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “That’s not why they give campaign contributions.
“It’s for access and influence.”
‘Trying to buy goodwill’
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, according to The State’s analysis of campaign finance data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Since that law’s passage, the money has continued to flow.
Just a month before it announced its plans to abandon the V.C. Summer expansion, for example, SCANA and its affiliates gave S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s 2018 election bid a big boost.
In June, SCANA and its subsidiaries, political action committees and employees showered the state’s chief executive 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.
However, campaign contributions are not the only way that SCANA attempts to influence actions under the State House dome.
Since 2009, SCANA has spent $1.5 million on State House lobbyists, employing from eight to 10 in any given year.
The company 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 State House public corruption probe. RQ&A principal, Richard Quinn, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. But his son — now-suspended state Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington — faces official misconduct charges tied to the consulting business.)
SCANA’s political contributions show what it – and other power players at the State House – are willing to spend to safeguard their interests, says a longtime good-government watchdog.
The trail of money is an effort to protect the company, said Lynn Teague with the League of Women Voters.
“They’re trying to buy goodwill, when they desperately need it, because they have done such an extraordinarily bad job at V.C. Summer and done so much damage to the public,” she said.
SCANA gave to key players
South Carolina’s largest stockholder owned company with deep Palmetto State roots, 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, the law that enabled SCANA and its junior partner, Santee Cooper, to undertake the now-abandoned nuclear expansion project.
Before McMaster’s June windfall, some of the biggest beneficiaries of SCANA’s donations were a handful of legislators who championed the 2007 Base Load Review Act. That law now is blamed for forcing SCANA customers to pay more than $1.7 billion in advance for the reactors, abandoned after nine years of work and $9 billion spent.
Some of the lawmakers who received donations from SCANA held seats on committees that were positioned to help the utility.
For example, some legislators were sponsors of the 2007 legislation that benefited SCANA. Some also were members of legislative committees tasked with vetting that proposal. Some also were members of the Public Utilities Review Committee, a panel that picks members of the Public Service Commission, a state board that polices utilities.
▪ Former state state Sen. Tommy Moore, D-Aiken, occupied all three roles, helping push the 2007 Base Load Review Act to passage. Moore ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006, raising $39,950 from SCANA that year.
▪ Former Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, the chief sponsor of the 2007 bill, received $8,000 from SCANA since 2006.
▪ S.C. Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, was a member of the committee vetting the 2007 bill and pushed it on the House floor. Sandifer, who has been chairman of the powerful House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee since 2009, also is a member of the Public Utilities Review Committee, which picks members of the Public Service Commission. He has received $9,500 in contributions from SCANA since 2006.
Since the Public Utilities Review Committee was formed in 2005, its members, who choose SCANA’s regulators on the Public Service Commission, have received nearly $78,000 from SCANA, its political action committees and employees.
‘What could have been done differently?’
Reached Friday, Moore said he saw no connection between the contributions and his work on the utility-friendly legislation. Like other lawmakers, Moore noted there was almost no opposition to the legislation, which passed the state Senate unanimously and was opposed by only six members of the 124-member House.
At the time, power shortages were projected, a carbon tax threatened coal power and nuclear power was thought to be the future, Moore and other lawmakers have said. The Base Load Review Act allowed SCANA to raise rates gradually to pay for two new reactors, addressing those concerns. Raising rates gradually avoided dumping the multi-billion-dollar cost of the reactors on consumers all at once when they were completed and producing power.
“Based on the facts that were known then, I don’t know what could have been done differently,” Moore said Friday.
Sandifer would not comment Friday on campaign contributions that he has received from SCANA or its affiliates, noting some were more than four years old and saying he does not keep those records himself.
“If I don’t have the records myself, with me, I’m not going to comment on it,” Sandifer said. “If you’re looking at my record, and I’m not, then you have an unfair advantage because you’re looking at a document, and I can’t determine whether you’re telling the truth or not.”
An effort to reach McConnell, now president of the College of Charleston, was unsuccessful.
Today, all but one of the 32 legislators on a pair of state House and Senate committees investigating the nuclear fiasco may find themselves in similarly conflicted positions. All but state Rep. Kevin Hardee, R-Horry, have received contributions from SCANA or its affiliates since 2006.
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 than panel, got at $6,250.
Those sums may seem small, but many S.C. legislators run unopposed and campaigns seldom cost more than $100,000.
“If you get to the point where those types of contributions do affect you, you don’t need to be there,” Massey said, adding he did not know how much SCANA had given him until a reporter told him.
“The part of the job that I hate the most is that I’ve got to raise money in order to keep it (the job). I hate begging for money.”
Money not meant to influence, SCANA says
SCANA says political donations are just standard operating practice.
“SCANA has long taken a nonpartisan approach to supporting political candidates” who support economic development and understand the company’s priorities, SCANA spokesperson Boomhower said in an email responding to questions about the company’s political donations, including whether they were meant to soften the blow of critics of the failed nuclear project.
“No contributions are made to any official to support the passage or defeat of any specific legislation, or to advocate on behalf of our company,” Boomhower said.
In addition to its corporate contributions, SCANA and its SCE&G subsidiary also sometimes ask their employees to make political donations.
For statewide officials and the state’s congressional delegation, “we occasionally invite employees in leadership positions (managers and above) to consider voluntarily contributing in support of certain campaigns,” Boomhower said, citing Gov. McMaster as an example of someone who “historically has supported economic development in South Carolina and generally has advocated for public policy issues that align with SCANA’s business goals.”
In McMaster’s case, the $115,000 in donations that the Republican received in June from SCANA and its affiliates far exceeds the sums the company has raised for other top S.C. officials, records show.
Since 2000, according to the Institute on Money in State Politics, the next highest total given to a S.C. politician was $46,950 given to Moore, the former Democratic state senator who ran for governor in 2006.
The SCANA network also gave:
▪ $46,205 to U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston
▪ $45,700 to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca
▪ $36,950 to former state legislator and Gov. Nikki Haley, the Lexington Republican who now is U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
▪ $22,100 to former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, the Kershaw Democrat who now is among a group of attorneys suing SCANA over V.C. Summer
McMaster, who is seeking the June GOP nomination for governor, said he has no intention of returning the SCANA contributions. Most of the more than 250 contributions came from employees, he said.
McMaster also has criticized the company, calling the failed V.C. Summer project a “jarring break of faith” with SCANA’s customers that needs to be investigated. Since that failure, the governor has been trying to find buyers of Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility and SCANA’s partner on the nuclear project, in an effort to somehow get the project back on track or return money to customers.
’A necessary evil’
At this point, SCANA’s political contributions won’t carry much clout with lawmakers, Small Business Chamber CEO Knapp said.
“They’re completely outweighed by publicity and circumstance,” Knapp said. “The sunlight has burned a hole right through those checks.”
Some legislators seem to agree with Knapp.
At least three lawmakers have returned contributions to SCANA or given the money to charity.
State Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, said he returned a $2,000 contribution to SCANA last month.
Democratic State Sen. Mike Fanning, whose district includes the V.C. Summer site, said he too has returned a $500 contribution.
State Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, said he donated his $1,750 contribution from SCANA to the Salvation Army’s Woodyard Fund, which helps low-income South Carolinians pay their electric bills.
“If it causes people to question my integrity, then I want no part in that money,” Caskey said.
‘IF IT CAUSES PEOPLE TO QUESTION MY INTEGRITY, THEN I WANT NO PART IN THAT MONEY.’
— State Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, who gave a $1,750 contribution from SCANA to a Salvation Army fund that helps low-income South Carolinians pay their electric bills
But, Caskey added, political contributions are a fact of life. “I’m not in position personally where I can fund a campaign without contributions.
“It’s a necessary evil.”
SCANA’S CAMPAIGN CASH
The company, its subsidiaries and employees have showered S.C. candidates with at least $1.25 million in campaign donations since 2000, most of it after a 2007 law passed that allowed the utility to raise rates on customers to pay for a now-defunct nuclear project. SCANA’s donations include:
Given by SCANA and its affiliates to S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s campaign in June
Contributions to 31 of the 32 state senators and representatives on committees now investigating the failed nuclear deal
Contributions to S.C. candidates in 2000
Contributions so far this year
SOURCES: The Institute on Money in State Politics, S.C. Ethics Commission
▪ Since 2000, SCANA and its affiliates have given $1.3 million to S.C. political candidates; $1 million has been contributed since 2006, the year before legislators passed a law allowing SCANA to charge its customers some of the costs for two now-abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County
▪ Almost $78,000 went to legislators who picked the utility’s state regulators
▪ $87,600 went to 31 of the 32 state legislators on committees now investigating the collapse of the Fairfield County project
▪ $115,000 went to S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster a month before the Fairfield project collapsed, making him the largest receipient of SCANA-related contributions