S.C. Political Corruption, Part 3: Courson, McMaster, and the Quinns

S.C. Political Corruption, Part 3: Courson, McMaster, and the Quinns

Sen. Courson Indicted on Ethics Charges – 3/17/17, The Post and Courier

Gov. Henry McMaster Standing Behind Consultant Implicated in Statehouse Indictment – 3/18/17, The Post and Courier

Last Friday, state Senator John Courson was indicted by a state grand jury on three ethics charges. He was immediately suspended from the State Senate. Courson allegedly funneled nearly $250,000 in campaign contributions to the political consulting firm of Richard Quinn and Associates, who returned almost $133,000 to Courson for his personal use.

The reaction was near universal shock and disbelief.

Courson, age 72, has had a distinguished 33-year career and was one of the most well respected and well liked members of the legislature. He was known as a straight arrow former Marine described by The Post and Courier as “a genteel politician with a sterling reputation.”

He had even received an award from the watch-dog group SC Common Cause for his work on behalf of ethical and open government.

It’s important to stipulate that Courson has only been charged with three counts of misconduct in office and for converting campaign contributions to personal use. Courson has said that the allegations are false and under our system of justice, one is presumed innocent until they are proven guilty.

For years, Gov. Henry McMaster has employed Quinn and Associates, the firm identified as laundering the campaign money back to Courson. More on McMaster later.

So, who is Richard Quinn and Associates? In a lengthy story earlier this month on Quinn and his son Rick Quinn, a former House Majority Leader and current Republican legislator from Lexington, The State newspaper referred to their vast network of interlocking political clients, businesses and state institutions as “Quinndom” – a political family.

The State detailed how for years, the father’s and son’s firms have developed and manipulated a vast network of mostly Republican elected officials, candidates and political players – all fueled my millions of dollars in campaign contributions, consulting fees and government contracts.

The irony of the Courson indictment is that among the media and political Statehouse crowd, no one had expected Courson to be indicted – and virtually everyone had long expected that the Quinns would be indicted.

The State showed how Richard Quinn runs the political consulting firm Richard Quinn and Associates and his son Rick owns Mail Marketing Strategies and detailed how they shared clients, business and fees. The partial list of the Quinn firms’ most high profile clients and the amounts paid just since 2009, is shocking:

  • C. Gov. Henry McMaster – $511,700 since 2009
  • C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis – $285,000 since 2010
  • C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman – $86,000 since 2014
  • C. Attorney General Alan Wilson – $252,300 since 2009
  • S. Senator Lindsay Graham – $371,000 since 2009
  • S. Congressman Joe Wilson – $207,400 since 2009
  • C. Senator John Courson $533,000 since 2009
  • C. Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman – $176,000 since 2016
  • Former S.C. Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell – $92,300 since 2009
  • C. Senator and Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Rankin – $270,000 since 2016
  • Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin – $99,000 since 2010
  • University of South Carolina – $491,900 from 2011-2015

The total from just these 12 campaigns and institutions since 2009 is $3,294,700.

But, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Quinns have been reaping huge fees and contacts from all sorts of candidates, state agencies and business doing business with state government for decades. No one (except the Quinns) knows how much but we do know from a 2015 news report that they received $2.1 million from the State Ports Authority alone over a six-year period.

So back to Gov. McMaster. The $511,000 McMaster paid to the Quinns since 2009 was second only to Courson’s payments of $533,000. But, the money shuffle between McMaster and the Quinns goes back years.

Just last week it was also reported that in 2000, when McMaster was Chairman of the S.C. Republican Party, the Quinns and a Maryland company engaged in a shell game to move $85,000 in and out of the Party’s bank account to try and show that the Party was in good financial shape. All of this was to shore up McMaster weak position in a tough re-election race for Chairman of the Republican Party.

So, what did Gov. McMaster do last week when his long-time consultant/benefactor was named in the Courson indictment?

  • Did he call on the S.C. Republican Party and its candidates to refrain from doing business with the Quinns until their legal issues were resolved? No, he did not.
  • Did he call on the S.C. Republican Party to release all of its financial records related to their dealing with the Quinns? No, he did not.
  • Did he release all of his own campaign records, invoices and other financial information related to his dealings with the Quinns? No, he did not?
  • Did he release a complete list of his personal and business sources of income to show that he has not taken money as kickbacks from the Quinns as Courson is accused of doing? No, he did not.
  • Did he call for an independent audit of his own campaigns’ financial relationship with the Quinns to prove that there were no irregularities? No, he did not.
  • Did he announce that he would suspend any further political or business dealings with the Quinns until their legal issues were resolved? No, he did not?

What did he do?

He did this: he said of the Quinns, “We’ve worked together for a lot of years on political things, and I intend to continuing working with them.”

And here is what else we know: South Carolina is in the midst of – or maybe just at the beginning of – a major political ethics and corruption scandal.

So far it has resulted in the indictment or conviction or suspension of the Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell, former House Majority Leader Jim Merrill and now Sen. John Courson. And, in the last few years, several other less high profile Democratic and Republican senators and representatives have also been convicted or resigned for a variety of other ethical offenses.

So far, all of the recent high profile corruption cases have been Republicans but this is very likely to change as there are almost certainly to be many more indictments.

It has been clear for years that the Statehouse politics operates within a culture of corruption. We are now seeing the evidence that the Statehouse may indeed be an open sewer of corruption.

Stay tuned. It is going to get a lot worse.

We deserve better.

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