Ex-lawmakers continue to cash in on their legislative time

March 2, 2019

Investigative Reports

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By RICK BRUNDRETT

Over the years, lawmakers have legally made it easy for themselves to continue making money after leaving office through their connections in the Legislature and elsewhere in state and local government.

Under state law, for example, legislators can become lobbyists just a year after leaving office. In recent years, at least four lawmakers – former state Reps. Kenny Bingham, Dan Cooper, Andy Patrick and Mike Ryhal – have become lobbyists soon after the one-year “cooling off” period, The Nerve found in a review of State Ethics Commission records.

None of the four ex-legislators returned phone messages this week from The Nerve seeking comment. They are among at least 14 former S.C. House members who are registered lobbyists this year, representing everything from local governments and state public colleges and universities to major corporations and trade groups, Ethics Commission records show.

Last year, 17 former lawmakers collectively received nearly $1.2 million in lobbying payments, a review by The Nerve found, though the total amount likely represented only part of what they earned as a group, given the state definition of lobbying.

There hasn’t been any serious effort this legislative session to extend the waiting period for lawmakers to become lobbyists. In 2010, The Nerve reported that then-state Sen. Mick Mulvaney – now President Donald Trump’s budget director and acting chief of staff – proposed extending it to five years, which, had it passed, would have been the longest ban in the nation.

Former S.C. lawmakers have since taken advantage of the short waiting period. Bingham, for example, served in the S.C. House for 16 years before announcing his retirement in July 2016 and taking a position as a “government affairs advisor” – though he wasn’t a registered lobbyist then – with the Adams and Reese law and consulting firm, which has 18 offices across the southern U.S., including Columbia, and in Washington, D.C.

There, according to the firm’s website, he “applies his unique experience in legislative, business, finance, education, health care and economic development to help firm clients meet their goals.”

Under state law, “lobbying” is defined as “promoting or opposing through direct communication with public officials or public employees” the “introduction or enactment” of legislation, “covered” matters before the governor or state agencies, or appointments made by the General Assembly. Often, lobbyist principals report only the “direct communication” portion of their lobbyists’ income.

Bingham, a former House Ethics Committee chairman from Lexington County, reported earning an unspecified amount of income in 2016 from the Adams and Reese firm on his last required income-disclosure statement filed with the State Ethics Commission in March 2017. A licensed engineer, Bingham also reported private income from American Engineering Consultants, a Cayce firm that he co-owns and received payments from state and local government agencies while he was a lawmaker, as The Nerve reported in 2014.

Bingham first registered as a lobbyist in November 2017, which would have been a year after his House term officially ended; in the last six months of 2017, he reported a total of $1,000 in lobbying payments, according to Ethics Commission records. Last year, he received a total of $176,500 in payments from six clients in the water and wastewater utility, energy and health insurance fields, including the South Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance and the South Carolina Alliance of Health Plans, records show.

Bingham isn’t the only ex-legislator to have made a relatively quick switch to lobbying. Former Rep. Cooper of Anderson County, who had been in the S.C. House for more than 20 years, including a six-year stint as chairman of the powerful budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, resigned from the Legislature in June 2011 and became a principal with Parker Poe Consulting in Columbia, a subsidiary of the Parker Poe law firm, though he wasn’t a registered lobbyist then, as The Nerve reported.

Cooper, who was a founder partner of Greenville-based Capstone Insurance Services and worker there for about 15 years, first registered as a lobbyist in September 2012, Ethics Commission records show. He stayed with Parker Poe for more than three years before joining Tri-County Technical College in Anderson County in 2014. He is a registered lobbyist for the college and also receives $110,000 annually as the school’s director of government relations and economic development, records show.

Cooper also runs a government consulting firm, called ExchequerSC Consulting, according to his LinkedIn account. Last year, he received a total of $44,400 in lobbying payments from the South Carolina Bar – the state’s professional organization for lawyers – and the South Carolina Emergency Medical Services Association, Ethics Commission records show.

Cooper was succeeded in 2011 as the Ways and Means chairman by Rep. Brian White of Anderson County, an insurance agent who worked at Capstone Insurance. White was removed from Ways and Means by House speaker Jay Lucas near the end of last year – about a month after The Nerve revealed, among other things, that Tri-County Technical College, where White’s wife works, received a 76 percent hike in state appropriations from when White took over as the Ways and Means chairman to fiscal 2018.

Two other former lawmakers who became lobbyists shortly after their one-year “cooling off” period include, according to Ethics Commission records:

  • Ex-Rep. Patrick, who left the House at the end of his term in 2014 after representing Beaufort County for four years. He first registered as a lobbyist with the Southern Strategy Group, which has 10 offices in five states, including Columbia, in January 2016. He received a total of $26,382 in lobbying payments last year from nine clients, including the city of Folly Beach and the South Carolina Optometric Association. His listed clients this year include Verizon Communications.
  • Ex-Rep. Ryhal of Horry County, who was first elected to the House in 2012 and resigned from office in August 2017. He first registered as a lobbyist last September and received a total of $7,440 in lobbying payments last year from Coastal Carolina University in Conway and another $6,250 from the Grand Strand Business Alliance. He is listed on the university’s website as a “legislative liaison” with the Government Affairs Committee. University spokeswoman Martha Hunn in an email Friday said Ryhal is a “full-time temporary employee, employed from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.” His salary is $99,997, she said.

Other ex-legislators as lobbyists

Besides Bingham, Cooper, Patrick and Ryhal, other former S.C. House members who are registered lobbyists this year include, according to Ethics Commission records:

  • Former Gov. Jim Hodges, who is president and CEO of the McGuireWoods Consulting firm in Columbia, a subsidiary of the McGuireWoods law firm and described on its website as a “full-service public affairs firm” offering, among other services, “federal, state, and local government relations.” His sole listed lobbying client is Virginia-based Dominion Energy, which acquired SCANA Corp., the parent company of South Carolina Electric & Gas, in the wake of the collapse of the V.C. Summer nuclear construction project.
  • Billy Boan, senior vice president of government relations at McGuireWoods, who also represents Dominion, as well as Facebook, Lexington Medical Center, Uber and the University of South Carolina, among his 28 listed clients. He was the highest earner among the ex-legislator group last year with total payments of $339,485.
  • Joan Brady, a former mayor of the town of Arcadia Lakes who operates Carolina Creative Strategies. Her lobbying clients include the city of Forest Acres and the Humane Society of the United States.
  • Harry Cato, a government relations consultant with the Nelson Mullins law firm in Columbia. As The Nerve reported last week, he is a lobbyist for the South Carolina Research Authority, a state-created, multimillion-dollar nonprofit organization that was identified in 2008 by legislative leaders as a key player in the state’s “knowledge economy.” His clients also include Apple, State Farm Insurance and Florida-based NextEra Energy, which has expressed interest in buying state-owned utility Santee Cooper, a junior partner with SCE&G in the failed $9 billion V.C. Summer project.
  • Former Lt. Gov. Mike Daniel, an attorney who operates Mike Daniels & Associates in Columbia. His lobbying clients include T-Mobile USA and the South Carolina Associate for Justice, which represents trial lawyers.
  • Ronald Fulmer Sr., co-founder of the State Capitol Group, a lobbying and government relations firm in Columbia. His lobbying clients include the “South Carolina Cities Coalition” on “all matters concerning, city, county and state.”
  • Shirley Hinson, a lobbyist for and the longtime government relations director at the College of Charleston.
  • Steve Lanford, executive director of the South Carolina Podiatric Medical Association, which lists a Lexington mailing address. The association is his only listed lobbying client.
  • Tommy Moore of Aiken County, who served most of his legislative tenure in the Senate and operates TL Moore Consulting. His lobbying clients include NextEra Energy and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.
  • Anne Peterson Hutto, an attorney who runs Innovative Public Affairs, a government affairs consulting and lobbying firm in Charleston and Columbia. Her two listed lobbying clients are the town of James Island and EdChoice, described on its website as a “national leader in school choice research.”

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

Nerve stories are free to reprint and repost with permission by and credit to The Nerve.