Owner of penny tax controlling group subcontracting with himself
The public affairs firm of Campbell Consulting Group has benefited enormously from the Penny Tax.
As one of just two public relations businesses awarded $1.5 million contracts each from the Penny Tax’s official Project Development Team (PDT) of M.B. Kahn, Brownstone Construction Group and ICA Engineering, Campbell Consulting president Darrell Campbell scored big with a contract that is lucrative by any standard.
That deal also represents a clear case of double dipping – if not outright insider dealing – because not only is Campbell getting paid as a client of the PDT, he also is a one-third owner of Brownstone, The Nerve has learned, whose portion of the PDT contract with Richland County is worth $27.5 million according to Exhibit J of the PDT contract dated Oct. 28, 2014.
On a document listing Brownstone’s ownership group filed with the County as part of its contract obtained by The Nerve, Campbell is listed as “vice president” of Brownstone and a 33 1/3% partner along with Dale Collier (president) and Tammy Templeton (CEO).
As an owner, Campbell conceivably had the ability to influence/vote on the awarding of a $1.5 million contract to himself. It also means he’s paid twice from Penny Tax funds – first from Brownstone as a part-owner drawing a salary, then again as a subcontractor doing public relations work for the PDT.
In fact it was precisely that public relations work that the Department of Revenue admonished Richland County for in its blistering Dec. 9 letter when it accused the county of “multiple instances of illegal activity by individuals and/or companies associated with the Penny Program.”
The letter from DOR director Rick Reames specifically criticized the payments to BANCO Bannister Co. and Campbell Consulting, though it did not list them by name. It cited the payments of $300,000 per year per firm as questionable because “it is unclear exactly what work has been actually performed as no documentation of the work has been provided.”
“In effect, the Penny Tax is paying $50,000 per month, $600,000 per year, and $3 Million over five years (before reimbursements) for the equivalent of two full-time employees – when an entire public information office already exists within Richland County government and other PDT members also provide public relations services.”
How both firms have billed the PDT for their work also raises questions.
In separate documents obtained by The Nerve, Campbell Consulting is invoicing the PDT on behalf of both itself and BANCO for the full $50,000 per month plus expenses ($680 in October for BANCO). An invoice from BANCO for its $25,000 monthly draw simply says “Bill to: Campbell Consulting Group,” while Campbell’s invoice shows it billing the PDT for both company’s fees. That arrangment means Campbell Consulting is collecting the entire $50,000 from the Penny Tax each month then, presumably, paying BANCO its $25,000 indirectly.
According to a county source with knowledge of traditional billing practices, the relationship is unusual to say the least.
“I don’t know how BANCO can be a sub(contractor) of Campbell Consulting,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s like BANCO is being paid as a sub of a sub” rather than as a different, equal business.
“I don’t know what that’s all about. It appears (Campbell) may be triple-dipping.”
There are even more connections between Brownstone and Campbell Consulting, such as where they are located. Campbell Consulting’s website lists its business address as 701 Gervais St., Suite 150-191, which is the address of the UPS Store downtown. A call to the store Thursday afternoon confirmed that 150-191 indicates a mailbox in use with them. No other business address is given on the Campbell site.
On the S.C. Secretary of State’s website listing official business filings, however, Campbell is listed as the agent of record for Campbell Consulting with a street address of 1310 Lady St. On Brownstone’s website, the address given for its Columbia office is 1310 Lady St., meaning legally, Campbell Consulting is run from Brownstone’s offices in the Keenan Building.
So why wasn’t this cozy arrangement between Campbell and Brownstone previously reported or disclosed? The answer is that it appears to have been, at least publicly, obscured. Campbell’s public LinkedIn page makes no reference to his employment at Brownstone, nor does Campbell Consulting’s website, which only lists Brownstone Construction Group as a client (as well as Kahn Development – another PDT member). Brownstone’s website fails to mention Campbell, again a one0third owner and vice president, anywhere on it despite having a page called “Meet Our Leadership” with a bio of Collier and executive vice-president Anthony Lawrence.
When told of the arrangement Thursday afternoon, Richland County Council chairman Torrey Rush said he was not previously aware of Campbell’s relationship with Brownstone as a partner in any way and expresed concern.
“I need to talk to our people about that,” Rush said of the news. “I need to get our staff’s thoughts on that whether we were aware of it. If that’s the case, we’ll take it from there. I need to do some fact-finding on it. I need to find out where things are with that.
“I think we need to vet that to see if that’s within our parameters of what can be done and should be done and why was this decision was made (to award the contract to Campbell Consulting).”
Both Campbell Consulting and BANCO were involved in the public relations effort ahead of the Penny Tax referendum in November 2012. On Campbell’s website it lists as a “past client” the “One cents Special Use Tax for Transit,” while Bannister was the campaign manager for a $200,000 Columbia Chamber of Commerce-led p.r. effort to promote the tax’s passage. In a Nov. 7, 2012, interview with The State newspaper, Bannister boasted he had people posted at 80 of the county’s 124 polling places on the night of the election encouraging voters to pass the tax.
For penny tax critics such as local realtor and 2015 candidate for Columbia City Council John Adams (who has also has a weekly political radio show on 95.9 The Point), such dealings are an affront to the public trust.
“He’s actually a partner of Brownstone?,” Adams asked when told of Campbell’s position. “You’ve got to be kidding me. And his PDT group awards him a separate million-dollar contract of public money? That’s ridiculous. It’s disgusting to see as a taxpayer.
“It’s like they’re just giving money away to themselves. People should be arrested for this. It’s criminal how this money is just flowing to the same people with no oversight at all. Why don’t they have to bid a contract out to everyone like everyone else does? It’s crazy. If they’re the best firm, they’ll win.”
Adams has a theory on why Campbell and BANCO Bannister got $1.5 million contracts from the penny tax PDT.
“It’s very simple,” Adams said. “In my opinion it’s payback for the work each one of them (Bannister and Campbell) did to get that tax passed in 2012.
“Heyward Bannister was out at the polls trying to convince people to vote for the tax the night of the vote. Why? Now we know.”
Government watchdog John Crangle of Common Cause SC said the problem with the PDT system is that it requires no oversight from county government.
“The fundamental question is whether or not subcontracts should be awarded without approval by government authorities,” Crangle said. “If officials allow them to do that, to operate without oversight of cronyism or conflicts of interest, they can hire their mother as a subcontractor.
“We knew from the get-go that when you’re talking about a billion dollars over a twenty-year period under the control of a county government, the temptation was going to be there to take advantage, and now we’re seeing it. The fact that there has been so little oversight, you’re inviting fun and games.”
In the year since the contact was was executed in November 2014, Campbell Consulting Group had been paid $323,974, while BANCO Bannister Co. has received $300,000 according to Richland County. Since collection began on May 1, 2014, the penny tax has ammassed $176.9 million and spent $68.3 million according to the November 2015 progress report posted online. The same report lists $5.9 million in completed projects.
A message left with Campbell Thursday at his Brownstone office was not returned. A call and multiple text messages left with PDT program manager David Beaty of ICA seeking comment on the Campbell contract and his position with Brownstone were not returned.
Reach Aiken at 803-254-4411. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken and @TheNerveSC.