SOMETHING changed on Tuesday. Maybe not legally, but politically, and just … in the way this whole thing feels.
As Rep. Rick Quinn and his father spent the day in court trying to convince a judge to remove Solicitor David Pascoe from the criminal investigation against them, the indictments against Rep. Quinn began to look much stronger than they did when they were handed down just a week earlier.
From the broadest, most dispassionate of perspectives, that’s a good thing.
I wish no ill for Mr. Quinn. I hope he is found not guilty if he did not violate the law. But it would be extremely damaging to our political system and our criminal justice system for corruption charges against legislators to fall apart because they were based on an over-broad interpretation of state law.
Although some of the allegations against Mr. Quinn involve actions that always have been considered legal in South Carolina, Tuesday’s hearing brought into sharper focus those allegations that involve clear violations of the law.
And although some of those allegations would be much more difficult to prove than you might imagine, others seem surprisingly easy.
The object of Tuesday’s hearing was to show that Mr. Pascoe and SLED agents had violated the Quinns’ constitutional rights by viewing privileged attorney-client communications, but Mr. Pascoe took advantage of an open courtroom to detail evidence that he said shows Richard Quinn & Associates “is both Rick Quinn Jr. and his father, Richard Quinn Sr.”
The indictments say the same thing, but without details it was possible to read them as not quite meaning that. But on Tuesday, Mr. Pascoe told the court that SLED found bank-loan records on which Rick Quinn listed himself as vice president of his father’s company.
He said Rep. Quinn’s company, Mail Marketing Strategies, “only exists” to essentially launder his salary: When Mail Marketing couldn’t pay Rep. Quinn’s salary, Mr. Pascoe said, Richard Quinn & Associates would wire money to Mail Marketing to cover it.
Legally speaking, that is potentially significant. The law treats father and son the same when it comes to voting: It’s illegal for a legislator to vote in a way that benefits either himself or his parents, as I explained last week. But that can be extremely difficult to prove.
But when it comes to reporting, the law doesne’t care what parents do; it cares what legislators and their business partners do. Legislators have to report any financial relationship that they or their businesses have with orgnaiztions that hire lobbyists. (Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said legislators also have to report the business their parents do with organizations that hire lobbyists.)
Politically speaking, the difference is clearly significant. It suggests that Rep. Quinn has been not just violating the law but living a lie: lying to his fellow legislators, lying to his constituents, lying to anyone who asked about his relationship with his father’s political consulting empire.
And that raises the question — which could be important in court and, if he’s’s exonerated, in the Legislature, where trust is the essential currency: Why would he have claimed for all these years that his and his father’s businesses were separate if they were not?
Rep. Quinn dismisses the allegations as “just absolutely false,” and maybe he has a good explanation. But unless the loan application and salary transfers occurred during the period from 2005 through 2011 when he was out of office, it’s hard to imagine what it could be. And alone, even that wouldn’t be a slam-dunk defense.
Mr. Pascoe told the court he has evidence that Rep. Quinn benefited from SCANA, the S.C. Ports Authority, BlueCross BlueShield, Palmetto Health, the S.C. Trial Lawyers Association, the University of South Carolina, AT&T, the payday lending industry “and many, many more” clients of his and his father’s businesses. Mr. Pascoe said Rep. Quinn voted on legislation that helped those businesses, associations and state agencies. Mr. Pascoe said Rep. Quinn lobbied on behalf of those entities.
By itself — and this is one of the shortcomings of our ethics law — it’s not illegal for a legislator to vote for legislation that will help his (or his father’s) clients. It’s only illegal if the legislator stands to benefit financially from that vote.
Recall that we learned with then-Rep. Nikki Haley that it was perfectly legal for a business to hire a legislator who has no qualifications for a job, and for that legislator to work for legislation to help that business.
Likewise, it probably would be difficult to prove that Rep. Quinn benefited financially from a vote that helped a company that had hired Richard Quinn and Associates to, say, design an advertising campaign. And unless you can prove that, then what Mr. Pascoe refers to as “lobbying” is just a legislator pushing legislation he likes.
But here’s what is clearly, unquestionably illegal: for a legislator not to report his relationship with lobbyists and companies that employ lobbyists.
And those entities Mr. Pascoe named in court as Quinn clients? They all employ lobbyists.
If Mr. Pascoe can indeed prove that Richard Quinn and Associates is both Rep. Quinn and his father, it’s pretty easy to prove that he didn’t list them on his annual statements of economic interests.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.