Former state Rep. Jim Harrison was paid thousands of dollars a month by an influential political consulting firm to, prosecutors said Wednesday, help that firm’s corporate clients with their business before the S.C. General Assembly.
Rebecca Quinn Mustian, the daughter and bookkeeper for onetime GOP kingmaker Richard Quinn Sr.’s political consulting and strategy firm, testified Wednesday about the amounts that Richard Quinn & Associates paid Harrison.
Harrison was chairman of the S.C. House’s powerful Judiciary Committee from 1999 to 2012 while also on Quinn’s payroll.
Harrison’s defense lawyers were to cross-examine Mustian Wednesday afternoon. They hope to cast a more positive light over the records and Harrison’s actions for the jury hearing the Columbia Republican’s corruption trial.
The 45-year-old Mustian, a reluctant witness for the prosecution, testified for more than an hour, identifying emails and other records that the State Law Enforcement Division seized in a 2017 raid on the offices of Richard Quinn & Associates on downtown Columbia’s Gervais Street.
Among the records were documents showing that, during one month, Harrison — whose House committee vetted 40 percent of all proposed House bills — was paid a $2,350 retainer by Richard Quinn & Associates from a $9,740 payment that the SCANA utility paid the firm.
Other records showed that, during the same month, the mammoth Unisys technology company paid $4,700 to the Quinn firm and Harrison received $2,350 of that money. That same month, BellSouth, now part of AT&T, paid $5,000 to the Quinn firm, $2,000 of which went to Harrison.
While those records only represented one month’s corporate payments to the Quinn firm and its subsequent payments to Harrison, prosecutors want jurors to believe that arrangement continued during all 13 years that Harrison worked for the Quinn firm, making a total of $900,000.
Harrison is charged with misconduct, perjury and conspiracy.
Prosecutors say Harrison illegally worked in the General Assembly on the behalf of the Quinn firm’s corporate and institutional clients, pushing legislation that they wanted and helping defeat proposals that they opposed. They also say the Columbia Republican failed to disclose to state ethics officials that he was being paid about $80,000 a year by the Quinn firm.
Under questioning by assistant special prosecutor Jim Griffin, Mustian testified Harrison was the third-highest-paid employee at the Quinn firm, trailing only Richard Quinn Sr. and his son, Rick Quinn Jr., then also a state representative.
Harrison told investigators last year that the only work that he did for Richard Quinn & Associates was to help out with various political campaigns, which the firm also ran.
But, during the trial, prosecutors have called witnesses who testified they were intimately familiar with the campaigns run by the Quinn firm, and Harrison didn’t have anything to do with them.
Several witnesses — including Mustian, who cut Harrison’s paychecks — testified they didn’t know what Harrison did for Richard Quinn & Associates.
Adam Piper, 34, testified Wednesday that he worked 50 to 60 hours a week on political campaigns while at Richard Quinn & Associates and was paid less than $40,000 a year. Piper said he attended numerous Quinn staff meetings to discuss political strategy but never saw Harrison at any of those meetings.
For years, Richard Quinn & Associates was perhaps the most influential political consulting firm in South Carolina. It helped manage the campaigns of numerous S.C. politicians, including Gov. Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, all Republicans.
What wasn’t well known was that Richard Quinn & Associates also was illegally lobbying the Legislature for its corporate and institutional clients. Those clients included AT&T, BellSouth, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, SCANA, the trial lawyers’ association, Unisys and the University of South Carolina.
Last year, Richard Quinn & Associates entered a guilty plea to illegal lobbying and paid a fine. That admission is of the prosecution’s linchpins in its case against Harrison.
Wednesday morning, state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, testified that Harrison was one of the three most powerful members in the S.C. House, rebutting the argument by Harrison’s attorneys that the Republican was only one of 124 House members.
At the powerful House Judiciary Committee, which Harrison chaired, “He was the man. He kind of controlled what goes in and what goes out,” the House minority leader testified.
Under questioning by special prosecutor David Pascoe, Rutherford said he had no idea that Harrison was on the Quinn payroll. Instead, Rutherford said he thought Harrison, a lawyer, made his living practicing law.
The name of Richard Quinn Sr., the legendary GOP political consultant and kingmaker, has come up often during Harrison’s trial.
Quinn’s staff and the politicians he helped elect have been referred to as “Team Quinn” and “The Quinndom.” Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen, who is overseeing Harrison’s trial, also has referred to Quinn Sr. as “an unindicted co-conspirator.”
Quinn Sr. is on the prosecution’s list of possible witnesses.
However, a prosecutor told Mullen Wednesday that Quinn, 73, would have questionable value as a witness because he has serious memory problems.