June 5, 2023

The Nerve

Where Government Gets Exposed

Top-Paid State House Lobbyist Earned $673,000 This Session

HandshakeRichard Davis, founder and president of the Capitol Consultants government relations firm in Columbia, reported $673,000 in lobbying income during this year’s legislative session, the most among legions of registered State House lobbyists.

“Because I work harder,” Davis said lightheartedly when asked about his lobbying work in a phone interview withThe Nerve.

Davis’s compensation total was nearly three times that of the second-highest-paid lobbyist during the 2012 session of the General Assembly – Theodore “Ted” Riley, who reported nearly $229,000 of lobbying income.

Riley is an attorney with the Riley, Pope & Laney law firm in Columbia.

Among the 25 highest-paid lobbyists this year, Tony Denny, founder and principal of Denny Public Affairs in Columbia, was No. 3, reporting $198,000 of lobbying income.

Rex Kneece, a partner in the Kneece Law Firm in Columbia, was No. 4 ($161,000) and Graham Tew of the Tompkins & Kinard political consulting firm in Columbia was No. 5 ($131,000).

The lobbying income totals, rounded to the nearest $1,000 for this story, are based on disclosure forms. Lobbyists and their employers, or principals, must file the documents twice annually with the State Ethics Commission.

The first filing, due June 30, covers Jan. 1 through May 31. That’s nearly equivalent to the yearly legislative session, which begins the second week of January and ends the first week of June.

Rounding out the top 10 highest-paid lobbyists for the first filing period this year were:

6. Stephen Smith ($128,000);

7. Kathy Shannon ($121,000);

8. Jason Puhlasky ($118,000);

9. Fred Allen ($114,000); and

10. Darrell Campbell ($112,000).

Fifteen of the top 25 (keep reading to see the rest of the list) reported lobbying incomes of $100,000 or more this session, and 56 lobbyists listed total payments exceeding $40,000, according to The Nerve’sreview.

One individual on the top 25 list is an elected official – Richland County Councilman Damon Jeter, who claimed $76,000 in lobbying income, putting him at No. 25.

“Really?” Jeter said when asked about his place on this list. “It does,” he replied when asked if it surprised him.

Completing his second four-year term on Richland County Council, Jeter previously served six years on the board of Richland School District 1.

He has his own firm, Jet Corp Consulting, which he describes as a one-person operation.

“Well, I didn’t work on any (issues) in relation to Richland County Council,” Jeter says when asked about his lobbying activities this session.

So, which issues did he work on as a paid lobbyist?

Because 2012 was the end of the two-year legislative session, Jeter says, “A lot of what I did was just monitoring stuff; didn’t really push a whole lot.”

Jeter, whose clients include the South Carolina School Boards Association, says the issues he tracked included economic development, health care and education. “And of course I followed the budget. Since I represent the School Boards Association, we’re always interested in the state budget.”

Three people among the 25 highest-paid lobbyists this session are former elected officials:

  • Bob Coble, the longtime previous mayor of Columbia;
  • Harry Cato, who served in the S.C. House from 1991 to 2010, the last two years as speaker pro tempore; and
  • William “Billy” Boan, who served in the House for 16 years during the 1980s and ’90s.

Cato’s clients include a state entity, the S.C. Research Authority. Coble also lobbies for a state body – the Judicial Department, which operates one of the three branches of state government.

Davis, the top-paid lobbyist this year, represents a state agency, too – the Administrative Law Court – as well as two local governments: the towns of Lexington and Walterboro.

As far as principals go, The Nerve reported in July that AT&T spent the most on lobbying during the first filing period this year – $276,000.

Davis says he has been lobbying since 1984 when he started Capitol Consultants as a part-time operation. The firm now has an 18-member staff, he says. “I think we lobby for around 32 clients.”

Not all of the $673,000 in lobbying income he reported is profit, Davis emphasizes. If it were, he says, “I’d be in the Bahamas right now.”

Davis says he and his firm lobbied on a variety of issues this session. “We worked on everything from health care – a lot of health care stuff always – to a penny sales tax for Lexington.”

What was the biggest issue for him?

“I don’t know that I could characterize any one issue as the biggest (this year),” Davis says. “Last year it was Amazon.”

In 2011, the Legislature gave Amazon.com a controversial five-year exemption from collecting state sales tax on South Carolina-based purchases. The House initially had rejected the tax collection waiver, but then reversed itself.

Kneece, the fourth-place finisher among the 25 most highly compensated lobbyists this session, also was surprised to make the list.

“Wow,” he said when reached by phone Monday.

Kneece’s clients included American Express and other consumer lenders, the Entertainment Software Association and the Motion Picture Association.

“I represent a lot of different lenders, financial institutions,” Kneece says, “and (with) that particularly there’s always something going on, particularly after Dodd-Frank.”

Dodd-Frank is short for the federal Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.

Here are the rest of the 25 highest-paid lobbyists for the first filing period this year:

11. Jennifer Robinson ($107,000);

12. Hobart Trotter ($105,000);

13. Lynn Stokes-Murray ($105,000);

14. Bob Coble ($103,000);

15. Sara Rogers ($100,000);

16. Hugh Faulkner ($98,000);

17. Dwight Cauthen ($96,000);

18. Robert Adams ($96,000);

19. Ken Kinard ($95,000);

20. Vicki Parker ($94,000);

21. Warren Tompkins ($90,000);

22. Harry Cato ($81,000);

23. William “Billy” Boan ($77,000);

24. Charlie Roundtree ($77,000); and

25. Damon Jeter ($76,000)

Nerve intern Blake Welch contributed to this report.

Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or eric@thenerve.org.

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