The Buzz: Magistrates and state senators, money for McConnell and iPads from Curtis Loftis

abeam@ thestate.comNovember 23, 2013 

Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw


— Last week, Haley campaign adviser Leighton Lord said he was “almost positive” likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Vincent Sheheen of Camden is not the only state senator who represents clients before magistrates that he has recommended for office.

Lord was right.

The list of state senators also includes Republicans, including one who last week stood next to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley – who beat Sheheen in 2010 and faces a rematch in 2014 – to call for ethics reform.

Republican state Sen. Paul Thurmond, a Charleston attorney, recommended magistrate Ellen S. Steinberg for appointment. The difference, Thurmond says, is he only appears before Steinberg in “uncontested cases” – where Thurmond and the prosecutor have agreed to a deal, and the magistrate signs it.

Thurmond says that has happened “maybe one or two times.” He said Steinberg recuses herself from all of his contested cases.

“I respect her for that,” Thurmond said. “That’s the type of person I would put on the bench.”

So far, the issue has not caused Thurmond much trouble because he only has been a senator for a year. But down the road, Thurmond will recommend many other magistrates for appointment or reappointment.

Then what?

“This is the sacrifice I made,” he said. “You have no idea how much business I had to turn down as part of being in the Legislature. That’s part of the process.”

The issue could get more attention when lawmakers return to Columbia in January. Last week, state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, said she will introduce legislation that would ban lawyer-legislators from appearing before magistrates they recommend for appointment.

The announcement from Shealy, a Haley ally, was designed to draw attention to a report in The State newspaper that Sheheen has eight pending cases before magistrates he recommended for appointment.

But someone already has filed legislation to ban the practice: Vincent Sheheen.

Sheheen introduced S. 240 in January. While the bill would not “ban” lawmakers from appearing before magistrates that they recommend for appointment, it would stop senators from recommending magistrates, giving that duty to the state Supreme Court.

Haley’s campaign dispatched Lord, an attorney and member of Haley’s campaign finance advisory committee, to talk about the issue. He said lawmakers have two choices: ban lawyer-legislators from appearing before magistrates they recommend or ban senators from recommending magistrates in the first place.

Asked which method he preferred, Lord said he liked Sheheen’s plan.

“Having the Supreme Court appoint them might be a pretty decent option,” Lord said. “You have to take the senator out of the equation.”

McConnell gets $4,250 from C of C board

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who wants to become the College of Charleston’s next president, already has received some support from the school’s board – $4,250 worth.

That’s how much four College of Charleston trustees, who will help pick the successor to the retiring George Benson, had given to McConnell’s 2014 campaign for lieutenant governor through Sept. 30, according to S.C. Ethics Commission records.

Board members Cherry Daniel and Daniel Ravenel have kicked in $1,000 each, and John Busch contributed $250.

But the board’s biggest donor to Charleston Republican McConnell is College of Charleston trustee chairman Greg Padgett, who has contributed $2,000.

Padgett also heads the college’s presidential search committee. Ravenel and Busch sit on the search committee, too.

Padgett is the only current College of Charleston trustee to contribute to McConnell in recent years, when he was a state senator, according to state records.

The Charleston investment company executive said he gave to McConnell’s campaigns because he thinks his fellow College of Charleston alum is a strong, effective state leader.

The trustees’ contributions to one of the state’s most-influential politicians – being touted for the College of Charleston job heavily by some Lowcountry lawmakers – won’t matter in choosing a new college leader, Padgett said.

“Our duty is to do what’s in the best interest of the college,” he said. “That’s what the board is going to do. ... It will not affect the decision of the board members.”

The national search is scheduled to take longer than McConnell’s self-imposed deadline of New Year’s to start campaigning for the nomination for lieutenant governor in the June GOP primary.

McConnell said he will decide over Thanksgiving whether to try to become a college president or run for lieutenant governor.

Future Scholar investment firm paid for iPads

State Treasurer Curtis Loftis has given away 115 iPads to high school students – each with a $30 iTunes gift card – and state Retirement System Investment Commission chairman Reynolds Williams wants to know who paid for them.

The (Spartanburg) Herald Journal reported the iPads were donated “from an investment firm.”

Loftis is a voting member of the Investment Commission, which oversees the state’s $26.5 billion retirement fund. When Williams asked Loftis last week where the iPads came from, Loftis said he was “not going to talk about it now,” prompting Williams to say he was “concerned that a simple answer to a simple question triggers such evasion.”

A spokesman for Loftis later said the Columbia Management investment firm bought the iPads, adding the firm “does zero business with the S.C. Retirement Investment Commission.”

But the firm does manage the state’s Future Scholar program, a 529 College Savings Plan, which Loftis oversees. Loftis’ spokesman said the iPads are part of the contract the Treasurer’s Office has with Columbia Management to promote financial literacy and market the Future Scholars program, as is required by S.C. law 59-2-50(13).

State Ethics Commission executive director Herb Hayden told The Associated Press the arrangement “doesn’t appear to conflict with state ethics laws.”

Buzz bites

The S.C. Republican Party reported it had just $4,631.82 cash-on-hand last week, prompting S.C. Democrats to go on a fundraising blitz to raise at least that much money in one day. No word on if they were successful. ... Vice President Joe Biden did not have enough money to cover a $56.25 bill at a D.C. sandwich shop, so he got a loan from his assistant, former University of South Carolina lineman Fran Person, The Associated Press reported. ... Both Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott declined last week to endorse U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham for re-election next year, but Haley did say she was “very grateful” to Graham for his help on past issues.

Quote of the week

“We sold 101 licenses that first day, and signed three people up for Obamacare.”

Don Winslow , deputy director for outreach and support services for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, joking about DNR’s new online hunting-and-fishing licensing system, which went live last week.

Staff writers Joey Holleman and Andrew Shain contributed. Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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