State investigators are looking at the South Carolina Ports Authority’s relationship to Richard Quinn & Associates – S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s long-time political consulting firm that recently was named in a state senator’s indictment on public corruption charges.
Two of Gov. McMaster’s nominees to the board of the Ports Authority go before a legislative vetting panel Wednesday.
One of the two nominees will succeed Ports Authority chairman Pat McKinney. Last year, McKinney raised questions about the port’s business dealings with the Quinn firm, according to The (Charleston) Post and Courier.
In late February, McMaster’s chief of staff, Trey Walker – who worked for Quinn years ago – asked McKinney, a 40-year real-estate veteran, to resign his Post Authority post immediately.
In a March 1 letter, McKinney told McMaster, who took office in late January, that he did not want to leave the Ports Authority board seat open for long before his successor was confirmed.
McKinney was appointed to the Ports Authority board in 2011 by then-Gov. Nikki Haley.
McMaster’s spokesperson said Tuesday that McKinney’s questions about Richard Quinn & Associates’ contracts with the Ports Authority — totaling $369,000 between 2012 and 2015, according to the Post and Courier — did not drive the governor’s decision to replace him on the board, which oversees the multi-billion-dollar Charleston port.
McMaster has nominated Kenneth Jackson, a senior vice president at the Cayce-based SCANA utility, and Bluffton attorney William Jones to fill two seats on the authority’s board, including the seat held by McKinney, whose term on the board has expired. Those nominations require the state Senate’s approval.
“The governor’s decision to fill (an) expired term on the Ports Authority Board by appointing Mr. Jackson and Mr. Jones had everything to do with making sure that their unwavering pro-business voices are at the forefront of one of our state’s most important economic engines – and nothing else,” said McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes.
McKinney, one of the developers of the Kiawah Island resort, ran unsuccessfully against McMaster in the 2014 GOP primary for lieutenant governor as a pro-business Republican.
Authority hands over records
The changes on the board of the Ports Authority underscore McMaster’s closeness to the players involved in special prosecutor David Pascoe’s ongoing State House corruption probe.
Most recently, that investigation ensnared a respected state senator and implicated Richard Quinn & Associates, the governor’s political consultant.
Last Thursday, a state grand jury indicted state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, on charges of misconduct in office and spending campaign funds on personal expenses. The indictment alleged Courson’s campaigns paid almost $250,000 to First Impressions, doing business as Richard Quinn & Associates, and the firm sent back more than $130,000 to Courson, who converted the “campaign funds to person use.”
The firm’s leader, Richard Quinn, is a long-time political consultant to McMaster, having helped the Richland Republican in successful races for state GOP chairman, attorney general and lieutenant governor in 2014 and a failed bid for governor in 2010.
Now, the ongoing corruption probe is looking at the relationship between the Ports Authority – whose board is controlled by the governor – and the governor’s long-time political consultant.
The Ports Authority has provided state investigators records on its business dealings with Richard Quinn & Associates, First Impressions and another partnership involving Quinn. The Ports Authority hired those firms “for statewide public relations consulting services and for production of statewide grassroots awareness campaigns,” Ports spokesperson Erin Dhand said Tuesday.
Those services included design of print materials, advertising, media buying, public opinion surveys, and writing op-eds, Dhand added.
Last week, McMaster said he would continue working with Quinn’s firm, which has not been charged with any wrongdoing.