In the weeks before SCANA abandoned its plan to finish two nuclear reactors that have cost S.C. customers $1.7 billion so far, the utility and its associates showered Gov. Henry McMaster with tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.
McMaster raised at least $115,000 in June from more than 250 contributors tied to SCANA, The State found, analyzing the Richland Republican’s campaign contributions.
Those contributions include $16,500 from 10 of the utility’s top corporate officers, some of whom saw their salaries and bonuses rise sharply while the V.C. Summer nuclear expansion was derailing. SCANA chief executive Kevin Marsh gave McMaster the most — $2,500.
Asked whether McMaster plans to distance himself from the Cayce-based utility or return any of the contributions, the Republican’s campaign consultant, Tim Pearson, said the governor already has “characterized the failures of the utilities at V.C. Summer as a ‘jarring break of faith’ with ratepayers and called for a full-scale investigation into the actions they took that got us here.”
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Pearson added McMaster appreciates the support of SCANA’s employees, who accounted for the bulk of the contributions.
“His focus is not on political stunts but on real solutions, like finding new jobs for the laid-off workers and getting ratepayers their money back,” Pearson said of the governor.
The failure of the nuclear project could dominate the 2018 campaign for governor and the legislative agenda. Lawmakers already have launched inquiries into what went wrong.
Republican Catherine Templeton – McMaster’s chief threat for the GOP nomination for governor so far – has signaled she will try to tie McMaster to the nuclear fallout.
Last week, Templeton tweeted a picture of herself holding up her S.C. Electric & Gas bill, saying, "We need a leader who will protect us – not his cronies. RT (retweet) if your power bill this month is over $200,” she wrote.
SCE&G is the largest subsidiary of SCANA.
The move is consistent with the Charleston attorney’s efforts to link McMaster to controversies roiling the political establishment. But whether Templeton – whose own record working for the state has raised questions – can make the failed nuke project stick to McMaster remains to be seen, S.C. political observers say.
“This is certainly really lousy timing and potentially embarrassing for McMaster,” Karen Kedrowski, a Winthrop University political scientist, said of the SCANA contributions, rolling in a month before the company abandoned the V.C. Summer expansion.
“He (McMaster) is going to have to answer some questions about whether or not he was a party to this, or whether there was something to be done to prevent this.”
McMaster has some cover.
He only has been governor since January. Until then, McMaster had been lieutenant governor. He took over as the state’s chief executive when Gov. Nikki Haley resigned to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
And in 2007, when the law passed allowing SCANA to charge customers for the over-budget and now-abandoned nuclear reactors, McMaster was attorney general. His job was to prosecute crimes for the state.
So far, S.C. electricity customers have paid $1.7 billion for the failed nuclear expansion.
McMaster has been courting power companies in an effort to save the project since SCANA and Santee Cooper, its partner in the nuclear project, decided to suspend construction.
In an attempt to revive the Fairfield County project, McMaster is exploring a sale of the state-owned Santee Cooper utility or its 45 percent stake in the nuclear project.
At least three companies have signed non-disclosure agreements to enter negotiations. However, McMaster’s office has offered few details about the status of those negotiations.
McMaster’s boost from SCANA
The Republican raised more than $100,000 from SCANA employees in June for his bid to win the GOP nomination for governor in 2018
10: Number of SCANA’s 12 corporate officers who gave money to the Republican governor
$16,500: Amount SCANA executive leaders gave
250: The number — roughly — of SCANA employees who contributed to the governor’s election campaign in June
$115,000: The amount — at least — that McMaster’s campaign took in from SCANA employees in June
7: The percent of McMaster’s total contributions that came from SCANA and its employees