By ELISABETH PARKER
A look at the State House’s top influencers
As of August 17, the 10 highest paid lobbyists in South Carolina for 2016 made over $2.6 million, with one lobbyist making just over 33 percent of that total. (These amounts indicate income earned to date, but since the 2016 legislative session has ended, they are likely near the year’s total.)
Richard Davis, founder and president of Columbia-based Capitol Consultants, Inc., made over $871,000 in 2016, according to public records. This is three times more than the next highest paid lobbyist, Tony Denny. Mr. Denny made over $267,000 in 2016.
The next highest paid lobbyists are:
- Dwight Drake – $265,959
- Theodor D. Riley – $213,708
- Rexford P. Kneece – $207,793
- Jason Puhlasky – $183,477
- Edward Poliakoff – $167,565
- Dwight Cauthen – $152,750
- Lynn Stokes-Murray – $150,083
- Darrell Campbell – $148,824
More telling, however, is what lobbyist principals – companies or associations that hire lobbyists – paid the most in 2016. The top ten principals based on total expenditures for this year were:
- AT&T $157,874
- SC Hospital Association – $157,581
- The Electric Cooperatives of SC – $155,841
- Municipal Association of SC – $142,245
- Duke Energy Carolinas – $138,378
- SCANA Corporation – $121,620
- SC Association for Justice – $199,167
- Carolinas AGC – $112,837
- HCA North Florida Division – $109,147
- SC Farm Bureau Federation – $101,702
These are mostly not what one normally thinks of as private companies – they’re mostly cooperatives, utilities, and other quasi-governmental organizations.
Worth noting, too: The expenditures are relatively low for the payoffs. One example. According to the Comptroller General’s spending transparency website, state agencies spent almost $29 million on AT&T’s services during fiscal year 2015-2016.
The SC Farm Bureau Federation – a “grassroots, non-profit organization celebrating and supporting family farmers, locally grown food, and our rural lands through legislative advocacy, education, and community outreach,” according to its website – saw an even bigger return on investment. The organization’s lobbyists successfully advocated for a $40 million bailout for South Carolina farmers. The funding was for farms damaged by last October’s floods, but of course no other industry received a comparable aid package.
Also active in lobbying for state favors are state agencies and organizations funded almost exclusively by public money. These entities receive money from government, then use that money to lobby government in order to receive favorable treatment, often in the form of more public money. The top five entities in this category are:
- Municipal Association – $142,246
- SC Association of Counties – $93,415
- City of North Myrtle Beach – $73,333
- Clemson University – $68,110
- SC School Boards Association – $66,464
Elisabeth Parker is a research assistant at the South Carolina Policy Council, The Nerve’s parent organization.