S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, the state’s top prosecutor, will not get a free pass to re-election – if a fellow Lexington County Republican gets his way.
State Rep. Todd Atwater, R-Lexington, will announce Wednesday that he is running for attorney general, challenging Wilson in next June’s Republican primary.
Heating the intra-party, intra-county race up even more, Atwater has signaled that Wilson’s much-criticized role in the ongoing State House corruption probe will be a focus of his campaign.
As the state’s top prosecutor, Wilson removed himself from the investigation, citing relationships with some of the investigation’s targets. Later, however, Wilson tried unsuccessfully to fire special prosecutor David Pascoe from the probe.
Recently, the probe led to charges against Wilson’s political consultant, Richard Quinn of Columbia.
Trying to tie Wilson to the corruption scandal echoes the strategy that Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton is trying to use in her GOP primary race against S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, another long-time Quinn client. However, McMaster has ended his with Quinn’s firm for his 2018 governor’s bid.
Whether the strategy works will depend on how convincing Atwater is and how many South Carolinians he reaches, said Scott Buchanan, a political scientist at The Citadel.
“When you get to these down-ticket offices ... there's a tendency a lot of voters have – they just (vote for the) ‘incumbent’ ... unless they have some overwhelming reason to pick the challenger,” Buchanan said.
Some voters are watching the State House corruption probe and are coming away “just disgusted and shaking their heads and come to the conclusion that everybody in Columbia is corrupt,” Buchanan said, citing conversations he has had with S.C. residents.
But the big question, he added, is: “Is that a prevailing mood across the entire Republican electorate?”
Once widely thought to be eying the governor’s office, Wilson has said he plans to seek re-election as attorney general. He has a big head start in fundraising, finishing September with $1.1 million to spend.
Atwater reported having $115,619 to spend in his House account at the end of September.
A career close to state government
Atwater, an attorney, was then-Gov. David Beasley’s legislative director.
However, since the mid-1990s, he mostly has worked for organizations that lobby state government for business, manufacturing and medical interests.
Atwater, who will announce is campaign Wednesday at the State House and on Facebook, could win support from some in the legal community. His brother in law, Rick Hubbard, is the solicitor for the state’s 11th Judicial Circuit.
But the Republican, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday, could face ethics questions of his own.
While a state lawmaker, Atwater was the chief executive officer and president of the S.C. Medical Association, a nonprofit that lobbies state government.
In that roll, Atwater was paid a $400,000-a-year salary, The State reported exclusively in 2015 after reviewing tax filings for the Medical Association and its subsidiaries. The subsidiaries included a health insurance company, which is where Atwater said most of his work was focused.
Hospitals and insurers often seek contracts with the state or changes in their regulation.
Asked then whether his job presented a conflict of interest with his legislative work, Atwater said he had created a “Chinese wall” separating himself from the nonprofit’s lobbying activities. However, he added he sometimes chose not to vote when he thought there was a conflict of interest.
Atwater left the Medical Association in 2016. He now is co-founder and president of Folger Atwater & Co., according to a news release about his campaign announcement. The company was incorporated in August, according to the S.C. Secretary of State’s records.
Who is Todd Atwater?
The Republican state representative who will challenge incumbent Alan Wilson for the GPO nomination for S.C. attorney general
Family: Married; two children.
Education: Wofford College; University of South Carolina School of Law
Work experience: President and CEO of Members Insurance Trust and Financial Services; CEO of the S.C. Medical Association; president and CEO of the S.C. Manufacturers’ Alliance; general counsel and vice president of governmental affairs for the S.C. Chamber of Commerce; director for legislative affairs for then-S.C. Gov. David Beasley; and chief counsel for the U.S. Labor and Human Resources Committee under then-U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond
Political experience: S.C. House, 2011 to present