The cross-hairs of an ongoing State House corruption probe have centered on a powerful state legislator whose family’s political influence stretches across South Carolina.
State Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, was charged Tuesday with two counts of misconduct in office tied, in part, to his direct mail business and his father’s political consulting firm.
A few hours later, Quinn, 51, was suspended from the S.C. House. There, he has represented a Lexington district since 2011 and, previously, a Richland district from 1989 to 2004. In 2006, Quinn ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for state treasurer.
Quinn’s father is a powerful Columbia-based political consultant. His firm’s clients have included S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Attorney General Alan Wilson, as well as state agencies — from the Ports Authority to the University of South Carolina — and major S.C. employers — from SCANA to S.C. BlueCross to AT&T.
The younger Quinn was House GOP majority leader from 1999 to 2004, a position that controls the House Republican Caucus, including the ability to direct its finances. As majority leader, Quinn was caught up in an investigation into a legislative mail scandal.
A 2000 rule change in the House allowed lawmakers to request reimbursement for bulk postage. In 2001, about 70 lawmakers requested about $124,000 in state reimbursement for bulk postage for mailers inside their districts to constituents that had not been sent out yet. Lawmakers had spent about $79,000 for postage with Quinn’s firm, Mail Marketing Strategies.
The cash grab raised questions in a year when lawmakers slashed $500 million from the state budget. Many of the lawmakers returned the money, and the House changed its mail policy.
Then-Richland County Solicitor Barney Giese launched a criminal inquiry into the mailings but said he found no evidence of wrongdoing.
“The whole issue of having this be reviewed by an independent authority has cleared up any questions,” Quinn said at the time.
Defending the flag
Quinn’s tenure in the Legislature also has been marked by the role he played in defending the Confederate flag’s display at the State House – and then voting to remove it.
In 2000, Quinn was one of 63 House members who voted to move the battle flag to the State House grounds from the Capitol dome as part of a compromise. At the time, Quinn said his vote was "without a doubt the most difficult vote I've cast in my 12 years in the General Assembly."
In 2015, after the racially motivated slaying of nine parishioners at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, Quinn was credited with helping broker a House deal to furl the flag, ending a contentious debate. During that debate, Quinn demanded assurances the flag would be displayed honorably at the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.
Quinn was appeased when Democrats agreed not to call for the removal of other Confederate monuments, and Senate leader Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, promised he would support money for the Relic Room display. Subsequently, however, the flag has remained in a Relic Room drawer.