By RICK BRUNDRETT
The S.C. Department of Transportation since 2016 has awarded 56 bridge contracts totaling $8.4 million to a company with ties to Sen. Hugh Leatherman – one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers, records provided to The Nerve show.
The contracts with Florence Concrete Products, Inc. ranged from $50,164 for a bridge near the town of Lodge in Colleton County to $564,400 for four bridges in DOT’s District 1, which covers Richland, Lexington, Kershaw, Sumter and Lee counties, according to DOT records provided under the state Freedom of Information Act.
State comptroller general records show that DOT paid Florence Concrete a total of nearly $7 million from fiscal 2017 into this fiscal year, which started July 1.
Leatherman, R-Florence, who has been the longtime chairman of the Senate Finance Committee – which approves a version of the annual state budget, including DOT’s budget – was Florence Concrete’s president when he joined the Senate in 1981 and served in that position until 1993.
Since 2016, he has received an unspecified salary and dividends from the company, according to his annual statements of economic interests (SEIs) filed with the State Ethics Commission. His latest statement, filed on March 25 of this year, lists the salary and dividends as “family” income, though his previous SEIs identified those sources as “personal” income.
His latest SEI also lists several other general contractor or real estate businesses – Leacon, Inc. of Florence, “Hugh K. Leatherman LLC,” and “Hugh Leatherman One 1 LLC” – as family income sources. His online legislative biography lists him as Leacon’s president; secretary of state records show Leacon, “Hugh Leatherman, LLC” and “Hugh Leatherman One (1), LLC” as companies registered under his name.
In addition, Leatherman’s SEI also lists Leatherman Realty as a family income source; his wife, Jean Leatherman, is the broker-in-charge of the ERA Florence office. He reported a total of $21,855 in salary and other public income related to his role as a senator.
Leatherman legally didn’t have to report the existence of his Florence Concrete salary or certain other types of private income until state law was changed, effective in 2017, requiring politicians, political candidates and chief public administrators to report the sources and types, though not amounts, of their private income, and also of immediate family members.
That change was first pushed in 2013 by the South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization. It was intended to allow the public to better monitor whether officials have potential conflicts of interest, though the amended law has a number of loopholes.
In 2013, Leatherman began to report that he was a “minority” stockholder in Florence Concrete – several weeks before The Nerve revealed that the company had received more than $30 million in state payments from July 1993 to March 2013.
In a related matter, The Nerve in 2015 revealed that since 2012 when Florence Concrete first obtained an official “disadvantaged business enterprise” (DBE) designation by virtue of having hired a female president, the company had received $1.9 million in federal contracts through the DBE program, which is aimed at helping minority businesses.
Leatherman’s influence over DOT and other state transportation matters extends beyond his chairmanship of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee. He chairs, for example, the state Agency Head Salary Commission, which, as The Nerve reported in July, gave DOT secretary Christy Hall a $46,768, or 18.6%, pay raise, increasing her annual salary to $298,000, which was on top of a nearly 32% hike that the commission gave her last year.
The Nerve in March reported that the Legislature from fiscal 2014 through fiscal 2020 approved spending a total of more than $440 million through DOT for the construction of a road connecting Interstate 26 to a new Port of Charleston terminal named after Leatherman, though how much actually has been spent on the road project is unclear.
Leatherman also sits on the Senate Transportation Committee and the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank board, which over the years funneled several billion dollars to large construction projects in select counties.
As has been his longstanding practice with The Nerve, Leatherman didn’t respond Wednesday to a written request seeking comment on recent Florence Concrete contracts with DOT.
Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.
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