The $5 million gift that ousted University of South Carolina trustee Darla Moore made to the university has no strings attached.
“It’s totally unencumbered,” state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, told legislative colleagues in remarks he made on the Senate floor Tuesday. “There are no strings whatsoever.”
Courson said Moore called him Friday to explain her gift. Courson, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he and Moore have discussed education in the past, including during a pair of visits that he made to Moore’s home in Lake City.
In addressing her removal from USC’s board for the first time Friday, Moore surprised an audience at the university by saying she was pledging $5 million so USC could establish an aerospace innovation and research center.
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Moore’s announcement underscored her position as the largest benefactor in USC history and was seen as a retort of sorts to Gov. Nikki Haley, who replaced her on USC’s board with a campaign contributor. With Haley’s backing, the state House of Representatives turned down a request by USC for $5 million to start the research center.
In announcing she was giving the money to USC, Moore called on the General Assembly to match her contribution.
However, Courson said Tuesday that Moore — who has donated or pledged to give $75 million to USC and another $10 million to Clemson University — made it clear that, while she wants legislators to be more financially supportive of her alma mater, her gift is not tied to the state giving money to the research center.
Haley’s decision to replace Moore caused a furor among many students, alumni and other USC supporters, who saw the move as an ungrateful rebuke to a woman who has backed up her verbal support for the state’s public universities with large contributions.
State Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, said calls to his office about Haley’s decision to replace Moore were so frequent that his staff was unable to conduct other business. Knotts introduced legislation last week to expand USC’s board, adding he wanted Moore to seek that seat.
But Courson said Tuesday that Moore opposes expanding USC’s board.
“She’s absolutely not interested in doing that,” said Courson.
Courson said he shares Moore’s opposition to expanding USC’s 20-member board, which he said already is large enough.
In an interview, Knotts said he does not plan to withdraw his proposal to expand USC’s board. Instead, if it comes up in Courson’s Education Committee, Knotts said he would amend it to allow USC’s trustees to add additional members who have made special contributions to the university.
Courson said that is an idea worth exploring. But, for now, Knotts’ original legislation is dead for this legislative session.
Other than her remarks on Friday, Moore has not discussed her removal from USC’s board. She has not returned telephone calls from The State seeking comment.
However, Haley told Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker that her inability to get telephone calls returned by Moore played a role in the new governor’s decision to replace Moore on USC’s board.
In recounting his conversation with Moore, Courson said she did seem angry or frustrated. Moore, he said, conveyed a simple message.
“We need to move forward,” Courson said. “The state needs to move forward.”