June 5, 2023

The Nerve

Where Government Gets Exposed

USC Trustees Fail to Pony Up for Moore School Challenge

The NerveThere were no doubts where Darla Moore stood on the five-year fundraising effort put forth on behalf of the University of South Carolina’s School of Business, which bears her name.

After all, Moore herself pledged $45 million to the school, contingent upon USC raising $30 million to go with $15 million to be put up by the university.

But some of Moore’s fellow USC Board of Trustees members may not have been so enthralled with the project. At least that’s what one might surmise by checking a list of contributions to the fundraising push, called the Moore Challenge Match.

According to information gathered by The Nerve through an S.C. Freedom of Information Act request, some board members made very small contributions to the effort, and many gave nothing at all.

Board Chairman Miles Loadholt is listed as having made no donation to the fundraising effort, one of nine trustees who did not contribute.

“I’m very supportive of the business school, but it was just a situation where I had a priority with the law school,” Loadholt said. “I support the business school wholeheartedly and raised money for the business school, even though I didn’t give to it. It has my support and the support of the board of trustees.”

Loadholt, an attorney with Motley Rice, has donated sums to other aspects of the university system, giving $1.1 million to the University’s Bicentennial Campaign to benefit the School of Law and scholarships at USC Aiken and USC Salkehatchie.

Then-Vice Chairman Samuel Foster is also listed as having made no contribution. Foster resigned his post last July after federal agents charged him with bank fraud.

Other elected trustees listed as not having donated to the fund-raising effort:

  • Chuck Allen, an attorney with the Allen Law Firm;
  • Arthur Bahnmuller, an attorney with the Bryan Law Firm;
  • Egerton Burroughs, chairman of real estate development firm Burroughs & Chapin Co.;
  • William Jones Jr., an attorney with the law firm Jones, Patterson, Simpson & Newton;
  • John von Lehe Jr., an attorney with the law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough;
  • Toney Lister, an attorney with Lister, Flynn, Kelly & Talley; and
  • Eugene P. Warr, Jr., an attorney with Warr and White.

Ex-officio members Gov. Mark Sanford and State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex also did not make donations.

USC spokeswoman Margaret Lamb said that while there were a number of trustees who didn’t give to the Moore Challenge, all have supported the school in other ways.

And it should be noted that the 22-member board operates all eight campuses in the university system, not just the state’s flagship school in Columbia.

That said, even among the board members that gave money, several gave gifts of $100 or less, according to information provided to The Nerve.

In all, the 22 trustees gave $47,447.78 to the Moore Challenge, plus a future donation valued at $500,000 from Mack Whittle. Of that first amount, Whittle gave $25,000, Thomas Stepp donated $7,289.94, Michael Mungo put in $6,200 and James Bradley Sr. contributed $5,000. Mungo and Bradley both died within the past year.

In addition, trustees gave $103,426.98 to other parts of the university, which were counted as partial pledges to the Moore Challenges. Of that amount, $100,906.98 came from Whittle, the retired chief executive of The South Financial Group.

Greenville-based South Financial came under scrutiny in 2008 for giving Whittle a golden parachute estimated to be worth at least $12 million just before the company took $347 million in TARP bailout funds from the federal government.

(Just last week it was announced that South Financial would be acquired by TD Bank Financial Group for 28 cents a share. By comparison, Shares in South Financial were selling for more than $30 five years ago.)

The match total for the business school, $42.4 million, touted as a record for private investment at a South Carolina public institution, has come under scrutiny.

Research by The Nerve shows that a good portion of the money applied to the match challenge wasn’t donations, but instead payments for services provided by the business school to public entities, such as state agencies and municipalities, over the past five years.

Those payments include $75,000 to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to assess the impact of natural resources on the state’s economy and more than $30,000 paid by the S.C. Research Authority for the Moore School to assess the economic impact of SCRA, created by the General Assembly in the 1980s.

And it was recently revealed that USC canceled all bids to hire an architect for its new $90 million Moore School of Business so Moore herself could pick a design firm of her own choosing.

Four Columbia firms and their national partners spent months of labor and an estimated $100,000 each hoping to win the project before the school abruptly canceled the bids in a two-sentence memo sent April 2, according to The State newspaper.

Instead, the business school’s private foundation will pay an estimated $4 million or more to a New York firm chosen by Moore, in a move that’s been called unprecedented.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or at kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.

We need your help to continue our mission of holding government officials accountable! As part of the South Carolina Policy Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, we rely on donations to operate. Please consider giving today so we can keep bringing accountability to government. It’s your power, and it’s time to take it back!
The Nerve