SOMEONE OUGHT to remind the politicians targeted by Solicitor David Pascoe about Willie Sutton.
Mr. Sutton is the famous bank robber who famously said he robbed banks because that’s where the money was. (He didn’t actually say that, but we know his name because he was said to have said that.)
It’s easy to imagine Mr. Pascoe’s targets suggesting that Mr. Sutton ought to hit up orphanages as well.
The narrative taking hold — sometimes publicly, as with Sen. John Courson’s attorney and with Rep. Rick Quinn, sometimes whispered — is that Mr. Pascoe’s probe is a partisan witch hunt. The primary proof: Mr. Pascoe is a Democrat who once flirted with running for attorney general, and all six people he has indicted since he expanded the investigation beyond former House Speaker Bobby Harrell have been Republicans.
Who knows? Maybe Mr. Pascoe is motivated by partisanship, or ambition, or something like that; he is, after all, a politician. And it wouldn’t surprise me to see him try to parlay a string of corruption convictions, should he procure them, into a run for that or some other statewide office.
But his critics are going to have to come up with some better evidence if they want the rest of us to stop rolling our eyes and figuring their claims are just a desperate attempt to distract us from the charges.
I’m not suggesting that there are no corrupt Democrats at the State House; I assume there are. The question is whether it’s reasonable to expect them to be part of the investigation that the attorney general’s office handed over to Mr. Pascoe. And I would argue that expecting that particular investigation to produce indictments against Democrats is like expecting an investigation into investment fraud to solve the mystery of who’s been breaking into cars in your neighborhood: It’s not impossible, but it’s highly unlikely.
If Mr. Pascoe were the attorney general, we would expect him to go after both Republicans and Democrats during his tenure. Of course, we’d still expect him to catch more Republicans since there are so many more Republican officeholders than Democratic in South Carolina. But he’s not the attorney general, and he has had only limited opportunity to investigate legislators.
If Mr. Pascoe were running an undercover sting — like the federal Operation Lost Trust investigation that took out a tenth of the Legislature — he would be obligated to make the opportunity to violate the law available to Republicans and Democrats alike. Although, again, odds are that those ensnared would be overwhelmingly Republican, because of the numbers. More importantly, he’s not running a sting. He’s investigating things that already happened.
If Mr. Quinn had Democratic legislators on his payroll, it would be fair to ask why they weren’t investigated and indicted.
This investigation started after Mr. Pascoe noticed three names in the report the State Law Enforcement Division wrote about its investigation of Mr. Harrell: Rep. Jim Merrill, Rep. Rick Quinn and Rep. Quinn’s father, Richard Quinn, whose name was mentioned as a point of reference.
From there, the focus apparently turned quickly to Richard Quinn, who has for years been the state’s most prolific if not its most successful Republican political operative. And earlier this month, Mr. Pascoe brought indictments that allege Mr. Quinn has been paying legislators to do legislative favors for his business clients. Specifically, that he paid kickbacks to one legislator who was a political client and that legislators who were on his payroll were being paid not to do consulting or public relations work but to help pass legislation for his business clients. The younger Mr. Quinn also is alleged to have been working secretly for his father, and helping pass legislation for his father’s clients.
Partisan witch hunt?
Rep. Quinn has criticized allegations about the way he reported — and didn’t report — donations and expenditures as chairman of the House Republican Caucus, which, like other caucuses, operates under rules that Mr. Pascoe interprets differently than ethics experts have. But that issue is unique to the case against him; the charges against the other three current and former legislators center on their relationships with the elder Mr. Quinn.
If Mr. Quinn had Democratic legislators on his payroll, it would be fair to ask why they weren’t investigated and indicted, along with former Reps. Jim Harrison and Tracy Edge. But as far as we know, there weren’t any Democratic legislators on his payroll — a choice that was made by Mr. Quinn, not by Mr. Pascoe.
If you’re investigating a political consultant for using his connections with legislators to help his business clients, you focus on those legislators on his payroll, those who attend family events with him and those to whom he writes strange checks.
If Mr. Pascoe, in going through Mr. Quinn’s checking account, had discovered that he wrote checks to Democratic legislators right after they paid him for his services — as he did with Sen. John Courson, on 16 occasions, for a total of $159,035.95 — it would be fair to ask why they weren’t investigated and indicted along with Mr. Courson. But there’s no reason to believe Mr. Quinn had any such clients (if he had any Democratic legislators as clients at all).
If Mr. Quinn had a son who was a Democratic legislator who was running a similar business out of his building, it would be fair to ask why he wasn’t investigated and indicted, along with Rep. Quinn. But as far as I know, he has no such son or daughter or other relative.
So, with apologies to Mr. Sutton, if you’re investigating a specific political consultant for using his connections with legislators to help his business clients and enrich himself, you focus on those legislators on his payroll, those who attend family events with him and those to whom he writes strange checks.
If all of those people are Republicans, then it stands to reason that any indictments that come out of that investigation will be against Republicans.
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.