A sprawling public corruption investigation hit close to home Wednesday for S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster when his longtime – and former – political adviser, Richard Quinn, was charged with criminal conspiracy.
McMaster recently has distanced himself from Quinn, a Columbia political consultant whose firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, has worked for the state’s most powerful politicians and special interests. Quinn has been under investigation for months.
But as the governor’s race unfolds – and McMaster’s rivals seek to make State House corruption a campaign issue – McMaster could face questions about whether he is guilty by association.
“The conspiracy charges today are just more proof that South Carolina needs a new generation of conservative leadership that will deliver for our taxpayers instead of the corrupt good ol’ boy system,” said Republican Catherine Templeton, who has tied McMaster to Columbia corruption on the campaign trail without specifically naming him.
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As news broke about the indictments, Templeton tweeted, “Columbia is INFESTED. We need a Cat to stop the rats!”
Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, who also is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, said in a statement, “The cancer in our state is growing, and I will not allow it to fester. We must restore integrity at the (State House) and give the government back to the people.”
McMaster’s team is not worried.
“Governor’s races are ultimately about the candidates, and Henry McMaster is squeaky clean – he always has been,” McMaster’s campaign adviser Tim Pearson said.
“Anyone who knows” the former U.S. attorney and S.C. attorney general “knows he’s one of the most honest and ethical men you’ll ever meet,” Pearson added.
McMaster has distanced himself from Quinn, his adviser, in recent months.
He officially broke ties with Quinn in April with a final payment of $26,450 to RQ&A for mail, digital and survey work.
He also hired Pearson, an alum of Gov. Nikki Haley’s two successful campaigns, to spearhead his 2018 bid to keep his seat. Previously, Quinn had been involved in all of McMaster’s political campaigns.
The governor also has not been asked to testify or provide any information in the State House corruption probe, his office said Wednesday.
However, McMaster chief of staff Trey Walker, who once worked for the Quinn firm, testified before the state grand jury in August.
In more than two hours of questioning, Walker said he was told he was not a target of the investigation and McMaster never came up.
On Wednesday, Democrats lit into Walker’s relationship with Quinn.
“It is ... incumbent upon McMaster to explain the role his chief of staff plays within the Quinn’s business entities,” S.C. Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson said in a statement. “He’s been a central part of their organization while working in and out of government, and without clarity from McMaster, the ethics of the governor’s office are in extreme doubt.”
The McMaster campaign, meanwhile, lit into Templeton, a two-time state agency chief who might have to defend her own record in government on the campaign trail.
“Henry’s not the one who took secret no-bid, no-work contracts from state agencies. He’s not the one who lied about getting fired from a state agency,” Pearson said, referring to Templeton, who said she was fired from the S.C. Ports Authority, a claim the agency’s leaders disputed.
Added Pearson, “I would put (McMaster’s) ethical record up against Catherine Templeton or anyone else any day of the week.”
McMaster also scored a lucrative contract at a state agency between holding statewide office. He was paid about $460,000 over four years as a fundraiser for his alma mater, The University of South Carolina.