December 6, 2022

The Nerve

Where Government Gets Exposed

Agency PR Flaks Promote Their Bosses

The NerveIf you’re trying to get elected, name recognition is Job One.

South Carolina’s nine statewide constitutional officers have well-oiled staffs to make sure that happens. Although they can’t directly campaign for their supervisors, the PR specialists crank out plenty of press releases and do lots of other things to get their bosses’ names out to the voting public.

Most are relatively well-paid public employees. Three make more than their bosses.

Take Scott Malyerck, chief spokesman for the state treasurer, who is the highest-paid PR person among the nine offices. According to the state salary database, his annual salary is $117,160 – $25,000 more than the $92,007 salary of his boss, Treasurer Converse Chellis.

In a written response to The Nerve, Malyerck, who noted his title is deputy state treasurer, said his office “does not have a communications director nor a public information director,” though the department’s Web site lists him as the communications contact.

Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s communications director, Frank Adams, makes $82,930 – $36,000 more than Bauer’s annual $46,545 salary. Jim Foster, the Department of Education’s communications director, edges out his boss, Jim Rex, by a little more than $1,000 with an annual salary of $93,215.

You might think that Gov. Mark Sanford’s top spokesman, Ben Fox, would be the highest-paid PR person among the nine constitutional officers. But his annual salary of $62,000 falls in the middle of the pack; in comparison, the governor makes $106,078 a year.

Fox told The Nerve that he has a staff of two assisting him, though he didn’t know the budget for his office. He said to his knowledge, the governor’s office has not used outside PR firms.

R.J. Shealy, spokesman for Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, said he earns less than $45,000 annually. He didn’t know his office budget, though he noted it “keeps getting smaller.”

Renee Daggerhart, media relations director or Secretary of State Mark Hammond, said she couldn’t respond to The Nerve’s request until it was first reviewed by Hammond’s chief of staff. She apparently makes less than $50,000 since she is not listed in the state salary database for employees earning at least $50,000.

In a written reply, Melissa Dunlap, Hammond’s chief of staff and general counsel, said Daggerhart has “many duties,” including writing press releases and fielding initial media calls. She said the communications office has no separate budget, and no outside PR firms are used.

Hammond and Eckstrom each make $92,007 annually.

According to the state salary database, spokesperson salaries in the other three state constitutional officers are:

  • Mark Plowden, spokesman for Attorney General Henry McMaster, $65,779.
  • Becky Walton, spokeswoman for Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers, $54,719.
  • Joe Farmer, Emergency Management Division spokesman for Adjutant General Stan Spears, $53,819 . (In the Adjutant General’s Office, all military-related PR matters are handled by Lt. Col. Pete Brooks, who is a federal employee. A person who answered the phone at the Adjutant General’s Office initially told The Nerve he wasn’t “authorized” to even give out Farmer’s public email. Farmer didn’t respond to The Nerve’s written request, though Brooks gave an interview.)

The annual salary for Spears, Weathers and McMaster is $92,007.In fairness to the nine spokespersons, other state and local PR folks make just as much – and sometimes more. Sid Gaulden, for example, chief spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, earns $95,939 annually.

Greg Foster, chief spokesman for S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell – who is in legislative session for only six months during the year – makes $69,700.

House Clerk Charles Reid, in a written reply to The Nerve, said Foster’s main duties “consist of disseminating information pertaining to the actions of this body to the general public,” and that his responsibilities also “extend to working on legislative issues.”

Foster has no staff or budget earmarked for communications, and his office uses no outside PR firms, Reid said.

In Columbia, chief spokeswoman Leshia Utsey earns $101,000, making her one of the capital city’s highest-paid employees.

Utsey did not respond to The Nerve’s written request. Gaulden initially said he would but didn’t follow through.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 779-5022, ext. 106, or

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The Nerve