Crime & Courts

Grand jury report likely to bruise, not sink, SC attorney general’s re-election bid

Attorney General Alan Wilson
Attorney General Alan Wilson File

A state grand jury report, charging S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson stalled a corruption investigation that targeted his close friend and political ally Richard Quinn, has tarnished the Lexington Republican but not enough to cause him to lose his Nov. 6 election against a Democratic challenger.

That is the assessment of longtime S.C. political operatives — Republican and Democratic alike.

“It might cost Alan some votes statewide, but I don’t see where it would be the kind of thing that would defeat him,” said Neal Thigpen, political scientist emeritus of Francis Marion University and a Republican. “It’s not in the fatal-wound category.”

Phil Bailey, a former Democratic staffer in the state Senate, agreed. “I don’t see Wilson losing re-election because of this. It’s a heavily Republican state, and we are less than 30 days from the election.”

However, Bailey added, “If Constance Anastopoulo (Wilson’s Democratic opponent) could put a lot of resources behind it and tell the story, it could have an effect.

“But I don’t see that happening.”

By some estimates, it would cost up to $2 million to air television ads to tell voters statewide about the corruption report.

Asked Wednesday if she is going to increase spending in her campaign’s final weeks, Anastopoulo said that is something she and her husband, Akim Anastopoulo, a Charleston lawyer, will be discussing.

“I will decide — between my husband and I — what we are going to put in,” said Anastopoulo, a College of Charleston law professor who is on leave this semester.

As for televised debates — where the corruption issue could be aired — none have been scheduled in the attorney general’s race. However, both the Wilson and Anastopoulo camps say they want to debate.

Top officials in the state’s Democratic and Republican parties clashed Wednesday on the impact of the grand jury report.

Trav Robertson, the S.C. Democratic chairman said the report should cause Gov. Henry McMaster and the Legislature to call for Wilson’s resignation.

State Republican chair Drew McKissick said the report “will have absolutely zero impact on this race whatsoever.”

“Voters have been able to see through the dumping of this type of stuff late in the election cycle,” McKissick said, comparing the timing of the report’s release to the last-minute allegations against now-U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The state grand jury noted Wilson had a close friendship with Richard Quinn, who Wilson used as a political consultant. Wilson also was friends with Quinn’s son, ex-Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington.

Both Quinns were named in the confidential section of a December 2013 State Law Enforcement Division report that identified Rick Quinn as a potential target for criminal investigation.

However, Wilson delayed special prosecutor David Pascoe’s investigation for 13 months, the grand jury found. During that time, the statute of limitations ran out on a number of potential criminal charges “against individuals and entities,” the grand jury said, without identifying them.

The grand jury concluded Wilson “put his loyalty to Richard Quinn above his duty and obligation to the citizens of South Carolina,” adding Wilson’s conduct demonstrated “poor judgment at best.”

The state grand jury noted Wilson, who testified voluntarily before the grand jury, “denied that he ever shared any information with Mr. Quinn or anyone else that was legally privileged.”

Last year, the Pascoe-led state grand jury indicted Rick Quinn on misconduct charges, and Richard Quinn on failure to register as a lobbyist and criminal conspiracy.

Last December, Rick Quinn pleaded guilty to misconduct and resigned from office. Special prosecutor Pascoe dropped all charges against Richard Quinn and allowed his consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, to plead guilty and pay a fine for failing to register as a lobbyist.

The grand jury report is “very serious,” said John Crangle, a longtime State House ethics watchdog and Democratic candidate for the S.C. House. “For well-informed citizens to sit on the state grand jury to say that the attorney general was playing favorites with the Quinns and delaying the investigations, that’s very serious.”

But, Crangle added, “The problem is, here in South Carolina, people are so tolerant of corruption. They may think it’s normal!”

Thigpen, the political scientist, said the grand jury’s allegations won’t cost Wilson this November’s race. But they could haunt him.

“Alan wants to be governor someday, and this is a nice little skeleton rattling in his closet for someone to point to in a critically close race,” Thigpen said. “It could hurt him more down the road.”