Solar entrepreneurs. A health insurance CEO. A giant of the auto mile. Airplane manufacturers and power companies. A lumber magnate. A “free-market capitalist.”
Those are among the donors funneling cash to S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and his top GOP rival in the governor’s race, Catherine Templeton. Thus far, those donors have helped the two raise a combined $4.3 million for their efforts to win the GOP nomination for governor.
The high-powered, high-dollar donors know their way around the $3,500 limit on campaign contributions that one donor can give a statewide candidate during an election cycle.
Corporation executives bundle contributions, asking friends, industry peers and employees to give. Individual donors write checks themselves and from the companies that they control while encouraging family and neighbors to give as well.
As one S.C. political operative said, it takes “a lot of LLCs” to pay for a successful campaign, referring to the limited liability corporations that the wealthy and business owners use to divide their assets and, as a bonus, multiply their impact on political campaigns.
The donations can make a big difference for those donors if something comes up – a regulation, law or other matter – that calls for the now-elected official’s help.
The two Democrats in the race — state Rep. James Smith of Columbia and Charleston businessman Phil Noble — are so new to the campaign that they barely have raised any money. Meanwhile, the two other GOP candidates — Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson and former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill of Williamsburg — are far behind in fund-raising.
Here’s a look at the big donors giving to McMaster and Templeton, and why they have a reason to invest in the race:
Betting on the incumbent
A Missouri healthcare CEO
$56,000 – When Hurricane Irma was spinning toward the S.C. coast, McMaster had to cancel a fundraiser in St. Louis, Mo., hosted by Michael Neidorff, the chairman, president and chief executive of Centene Corp., a Missouri-based health insurance company.
The event was set for the same September day that the Gamecocks played Missouri in college football. While McMaster had to bail, Neidorff, who also raised money for former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley in 2014, still helped the governor out. Neidorff directed $56,000 to McMaster’s campaign through checks written from 16 different companies tied to Centene.
Centene has a stake in healthcare policy in South Carolina as owner of Absolute Total Care, a health maintenance organization operating in the state.
Solar is powerful
$49,000 – The amount, at minimum, that McMaster has raised from solar companies looking to expand access to solar energy on rooftops and in solar farms.
Matt McGovern, chief executive of Cypress Creek Renewables, gave $35,000 through various related companies. Jon Downey and Bret Sowers, president and vice president of the Southern Currents solar company, gave $14,000 combined, through themselves and their spouses.
Solar companies are pushing legislation at the State House that would give them a guaranteed tax break on new solar farms without having to negotiate with local county governments. The legislation, they say, would fast-track solar farm development in rural areas where landowners struggle to turn a profit off their land.
“We are happy to support officials like Gov. McMaster who work hard to bring the jobs and low electricity prices of solar energy to rural communities in South Carolina,” McGovern said Wednesday in an email to The State.
The 'free-market capitalist'
$42,000 – Dan Adams, president and chief executive officer of the Capital Corp., ponied up several checks from his various companies to McMaster.
The state’s tax code needs to be re-evaluated, said the self-described “free-market capitalist,” adding tax and education policy – anything that helps economic development – are most important to him.
Other McMaster bundlers
Donors who have given or raised at least $50,000 to McMaster over the course of the campaign were granted access to a VIP roundtable event with President Donald Trump at the governor's fundraiser Monday in Greenville.
Companies with executives at the VIP event included:
▪ Boeing, the North Charleston aircraft manufacturer
▪ Samsung, the South Korean-based global electronics company that plans to build a Newberry County plant
▪ Telecom giant AT&T
▪ Payday lender Advance America
▪ Fluor and CB&I, construction companies that have worked on nuclear reactors, including at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant in Fairfield County
One big corporate bundler for McMaster had no representative at Trump’s VIP event. As The State previously reported, Cayce-based SCANA bundled at least $115,000 in contributions from the company, its political action committee and employees to McMaster in the month before the utility walked away from the V.C. Summer nuclear project on July 31. (McMaster also has received $33,000 from the state’s electric cooperatives.)
Catherine Templeton’s boosters
The auto mile boss
$56,000 – Warren Peacock, a prolific auto sales executive, has donated to Templeton through his dealerships located in the Lowcountry and Midlands.
Automobile sellers have a huge stake in South Carolina, including their interest in a maintaining a low cap on the state’s sales tax on vehicles – one perk of buying a car in the Palmetto State.
The lumber magnate
$57,800 – Mikee Johnson, a lumber magnate and Haley donor and friend from Orangeburg, has funneled about $57,800 to Templeton through donations, including from family members and more than a dozen of his companies.
$21,000 — An Upstate philanthropist and her husband — a real-estate developer and former state lawmaker — have given a stack of cash to Templeton’s campaign. Susan Phifer Johnson and George Dean Johnson Jr. gave Templeton’s campaign $21,000 personally and through their businesses.
Paying to run
A look at the top two fundraisers in the race for the GOP nomination for governor through September:
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster
1,890 – Number of contributions
$1.73 million – Raised from S.C. donors
74 percent – Share of total contributions from S.C. donors
1,758 – Number of contributions
$1.87 million – Raised from S.C. donors
91 percent – Share of total contributions from S.C. donors