SCANA paid the embattled Richard Quinn & Associates consulting firm hundreds of thousands of dollars during a decades-long relationship that gave the Cayce-based utility access to powerful legislators and helped iron out its problems in the General Assembly, according to a state grand jury report released Tuesday.
SCANA’s $9,750-a-month retainer payment to RQ&A began in the mid-1990s and continued through November 2017 even though, according to a former SCANA executive quoted in the report, Richard Quinn “wasn’t really doing any work for us,” the report states.
Instead, over those years, Quinn — a GOP kingmaker at the center of a State House corruption investigation — helped SCANA smooth over rifts with powerful legislators that Quinn knew well, the report stated.
SCANA denies any wrongdoing, including the implication it relied on Quinn to unduly influence the Legislature. But the utility was one of several special interests that, while admitting no guilt, agreed to pay the state to resolve any potential charges that could have arisen from the years-long probe. SCANA paid $72,000.
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Those agreements were announced Tuesday in a state grand jury report that alleges prominent corporations and institutions paid Richard Quinn to influence legislation, using his network of relationships with powerful lawmakers.
The grand jury said it found “probable cause that the SCANA Corporation willfully violated the State Lobbying Act by failing to disclose Mr. Quinn as its lobbyist.”
However, SCANA insisted Tuesday that it had done nothing wrong.
“Anyone who reads the grand jury’s report will conclude that there is no evidence in the report that SCANA violated any law,” SCANA spokeswoman Rhonda O’Banion said in a statement. “The specific items mentioned in the report involving SCANA occurred many years ago and do not reflect that SCANA violated any law.”
The report does not outright allege SCANA paid Richard Quinn or his firm to push or defeat legislation on the company’s behalf.
But it says Quinn was paid in part for his access to key S.C. lawmakers.
Emails attached to the report show SCANA executives requested meetings with Quinn and his “team” — a group that included Quinn and at least three top GOP House members: Rick Quinn; Jim Harrison of Richland, then House Judiciary Committee chairman; and Kenny Bingham, then House majority leader.
However, Kenneth Jackson, SCANA’s vice president of government affairs since 2014, testified those meetings were not held to discuss legislative matters.
At least twice, according to the report, Quinn was called in to mediate disputes between SCANA and top lawmakers that he consulted as a political strategist.
The report cited grand jury testimony from Charles McFadden, SCANA’s former vice president of government affairs, that, in 2003, Quinn helped SCANA patch a rift with then-Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, who was upset the utility had banned the display of Confederate flag stickers on employees’ vehicles and company equipment.
McFadden also testified Quinn helped SCANA overcome a dispute with Bingham after the Lexington Republican’s engineering company was passed over for a $15 million project at SCANA’s now-abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear construction project.
“Mr. Bingham was very upset by the scenario and complained to Mr. McFadden about the slight, threatening to take the issue to the Public Service Commission,” the report said. Later, the report stated, Bingham apologized, noting he “had a very good conversation with Richard Quinn tonight and I now have a much better understanding of the process you are having to go through.”
The grand jury’s report states SCANA had little to show for Quinn’s public relations work.
“The evidence collected by the grand jury shows that, while these corporations may not have written out a contract that requires Mr. Quinn to provide access to legislators, that is precisely why they continued to pay RQ&A a monthly retainer without doing any real PR work,” the report states.
Jackson testified that Quinn’s firm helped produced television commercials for SCANA, the report states.
However, “when pressed, Mr. Jackson conceded he was not aware of any actual involvement by RQ&A in the production of the commercials,” the report states. “Mr. Jackson pointed out that RQ&A also conducted polls and surveys but conceded that during his tenure he did not have RQ&A conduct any polls for SCANA.”
McFadden testified that Quinn’s monthly retainer was cut to $6,000 from $9,750 in 2008 because “bottom line, he wasn’t really doing any work for us” and “was not keeping SCANA informed of issues relating to SCANA.”
The grand jury report makes no reference to the controversial 2007 law that allowed SCANA to charge its customers billions for a failed nuclear construction project.