By RICK BRUNDRETT
Over the past four years as South Carolina’s governor, Henry McMaster received a total of more than $87,000 in gifts, The Nerve found in a review of his annual income-disclosure reports.
Of the $87,695 in freebies, $24,679, or 28%, came from the Washington, D.C.-based Republican Governors Association (RGA), mainly for flights, hotel accommodations and meals, according to McMaster’ annual statements of economic interests (SEIs) filed with the State Ethics Commission.
The SEIs listed seven “accommodations” gifts covered by the RGA from 2017 through 2019, though the reports didn’t give specifics on the trips. Separately, McMaster’s latest report, filed on March 30, shows that the RGA reimbursed him a collective $2,758 for hotel and meal costs related to a speaking engagement last year in Bluffton, S.C.
McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes didn’t respond Tuesday to a written request from The Nerve seeking details on the trips and how much time McMaster annually spends on RGA matters.
The RGA, according to its website, is “dedicated to one primary objective: electing and supporting America’s Republican governors.” The association announced in December that McMaster, a former longtime state Republican Party chairman, had been reappointed to its Executive Committee.
In January 2017, McMaster, then the lieutenant governor, became governor after former President Donald Trump selected then-Gov. Nikki Haley to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. A former two-term state attorney general, McMaster was elected in 2018 to a four-year term as governor.
McMaster’s annual salary as governor is $106,078.
State ethics law requires public officials to annually report “anything of value” of at least $25 that they received in a day, or anything collectively valued at $200 or more accepted over a calendar year, if there is “reason to believe the donor would not give the thing of value but for” the official’s position.
The law also bans individuals from directly or indirectly giving “anything of value” to public officials to “influence the discharge” of their official duties.
The Nerve’s review of McMaster’s SEIs found that from 2017 through last year, the governor received a total of 511 gifts, ranging from a $1 “Braille Copy” to a $5,000 painting. Symmes didn’t respond to The Nerve’s written questions about which gifts over the four-year period the governor kept for himself.
Other accepted gifts over the period ranged from books, clothing and ornaments to pricier trips, records show. McMaster reported, for example, that the S.C. Department of Commerce covered a total of $3,721 in flight, hotel accommodation and reception costs in 2018, though his SEI provided no specifics.
The listed top freebie last year was a $2,563 round-trip flight between Columbia and Washington, D.C., donated by Mike Hutchins, who was described on McMaster’s SEI only as a “professional/colleague.” No other details of the trip were provided in the report.
In January last year, McMaster reappointed Hutchins to the board governing the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, according to a DNR news release, which identified the Lexington resident as the principal owner of the Frank’s Car Wash chain. Hutchins currently is the board’s vice-chairman, according to the DNR website.
Contacted Tuesday by The Nerve, Hutchins, who noted he was first appointed to the DNR board about 11 years ago, confirmed that he provided a private plane to McMaster for a trip last year to Washington, D.C. He said he didn’t travel then with McMaster, though he couldn’t recall the date or purpose of the trip.
“I filled out all the correct paperwork; it’s all legit,” Hutchins said, adding, “It’s the first time, it’s the only time … I’ve ever taken him anywhere.”
Symmes didn’t respond to The Nerve’s written request for specifics on the trip.
The second most-expensive gift that McMaster reported receiving last year was $2,480 in merchandise from the KISS rock band. McMaster officially declared Feb. 11, 2020, as “KISS Day” in South Carolina in recognition of the famous group.
The Nerve’s review of McMaster’s SEIs found that he received gifts totaling $26,549 in 2017, $19,325 in 2018, $28,270 in 2019, and $13,551 last year.
In comparison, The Nerve reported in 2014 that then-Gov. Haley in the previous year accepted gifts collectively valued at more than $45,000. Her office at the time didn’t respond to The Nerve’s request for more specifics about some of the larger freebies that she received.
Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.
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