For taxpayers, there is not a lot of money involved. But there is much mystery at work, as getting to the bottom of the culinary chronicle is difficult because the key players do not want to talk about it.
That only underscores legal questions surrounding the situation.
In November 2008, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s Office paid $5,000 to Gilded Age Films of Beaufort for work that Bauer’s spokesman, Frank Adams, has said was not put out for bid.
This despite the fact that the Lieutenant Governor’s Office falls under the state procurement code, which requires agencies bound by it to seek competitive proposals for their work when outsourcing it to the private sector in order to get the best deal possible for taxpayers.
Bauer, a Republican, oversees the state Office on Aging, which was moved out of the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, an agency of the governor’s Cabinet, and placed under Bauer’s control in 2004, where it has remained.
In the past year, the Office on Aging has come under fire for creating a private nonprofit named Senior Shield and giving the program a $105,000 grant. Senior Shield charges businesses a fee to certify that they are “senior friendly.”
In a no-bid contract for promotional services – not directly connected to the no-bid cooking adventure – Senior Shield paid about $111,000 to the Palladian Group, a marketing firm in Spartanburg owned by South Carolina Republican Party Chairwoman Karen Floyd.
Bauer’s then-chief of staff, Jim Miles, who was S.C. secretary of state from 1991 to 2003, departed from his post in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office a few weeks after the no-bid Senior Shield work for Floyd’s company was reported.
A Gilded Age Films invoice for the $5,000 no-bid expenditure describes the job as “Andre Bauer TV spot/sponsorship on U Cook TV series.” The invoice is billed to the “Department on Aging” at 1301 Gervais St., suite 200 in Columbia.
That is the street address for the Office on Aging.
A voucher from the S.C. Comptroller General’s Office lists the payer of the $5,000 in tax money as the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.
Meanwhile, Gilded Age Films owner Mike Kirk has worked with Bob Waggoner, a well-known Charleston chef, to produce a TV show named Ucook! with Chef Bob. “This series will be available to public television affiliates across the country in 2009/2010,” says the program’s Web site.
Some Charleston-area media reported that the show held auditions for audience members in October.
So how does Bauer factor into Ucook!?
Neither Adams nor Kirk would say.
In a phone call, Adams said, “I really haven’t got much to say to y’all.” He then characterized The Nerve’s parent organization, the nonprofit South Carolina Policy Council think tank, as a “political machine” and hung up.
Also reached by phone, Kirk said to e-mail him questions and some information about the Policy Council and call him back the next day.
After that request was complied with, The Nerve made several attempts to communicate with Kirk by phone and e-mail. In a response to latter, he said, “I don’t like giving out information to someone I don’t know. What is the purpose of your questions?”
Then, apparently trying to put an end to The Nerve’s inquiry, Kirk e-mailed, “I own a business that is very busy right now. I’m sorry that I can’t be of any help to you. Please contact the Lieutenant Governor’s Office if you need any more information.”
For his part, Waggoner says a commercial featuring Bauer was going to be filmed to air during Ucook!, and he says a meeting about it among the lieutenant governor and several other people took place several months ago.
But Waggoner says he isn’t sure whether the spot was created and he was not involved in the matter.
Cathy Hazelwood, attorney for the State Ethics Commission, says elected officials must not seek votes or otherwise attempt to influence an election when appearing in their official capacity in commercials and other promotional endeavors.
In addition, state law requires all constitutional officers except the governor – that includes Bauer – to receive unanimous written approval from the S.C. Budget and Control Board before using funding appropriated by the General Assembly to pay for print, radio or TV advertising.
The same is true for spending such money to print or distribute “official documents extraneous promotional material or to purchase plaques, awards, citations, or other recognitions.”
Curtis Loftis, director of the Office on Aging from March 2007 to July 2008, says the $5,000 was used unwisely. “It is surprising that the Office on Aging spent $5,000 on a speculative TV venture, especially in a time that spending on poor and ill seniors was being curtailed,” Loftis says.
Indeed, and what the money paid for as it relates to Ucook! leaves taxpayers feeling, well, hungry for answers.
Reach Ward at (803) 779-5022, ext. 117, or firstname.lastname@example.org.