More state payments to consultants discovered

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SCRA’s USC Innovation Center at 1000 Catawba St. in Columbia

Research authority is paying political operative more than 850K

By ROBERT MEYEROWITZ

The South Carolina Research Authority, chartered by the state in 1983 to “foster and enrich South Carolina’s innovation economy,” has paid political consultant Bob McAlister at least $855,500 since 2011.

The payments are all to McAlister’s firm, McAlister Communications, most in consistent monthly amounts invoiced for “public relations services.” Jessica Cokins, SCRA’s director of marketing and communications, said McAlister was paid as a communications consultant.

McAlister in the past has been a media consultant for senators Strom Thurmond and Lindsey Graham, as his website attests, as well as for Governor Henry McMaster, and for “many legislators,” including Senate President pro tempore Hugh Leatherman, who serves on SCRA’s board.

McAlister also at times has partnered on operations with Richard Quinn, the political consultant who has been drawn into the corruption investigation being pursued by 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe.

Quinn and McAlister worked together on McMaster’s 2010 gubernatorial primary campaign. When news broke several weeks ago that Pascoe had obtained an indictment of state Senator John Courson, on ethics charges stemming from payments to and from Quinn, former governor Nikki Haley, who won that primary and the governorship, and is now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted that Quinn and McAlister “will do everything to maintain control and keep the money flowing.”

From April 2014 to June 2016, SCRA paid McAlister $12,000 every month for consulting. From 2014 to the present, according to records furnished by SCRA, he’s been paid $387,500.

From 2011 to March 2014, SCRA paid him another $468,000, but does not retain invoices from that time, Cokins said; those payments were also for consulting, she said, at the rate of $144,000 a year.

SCRA continues to pay McAlister for consulting, at the rate of $10,000 a month.

Asked what other documentation existed to show the work McAlister did for SCRA, Cokins said the invoices, which simply say “public relations services,” “show what work was completed.”

McAlister could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this month, The Nerve learned that First Steps, the state early-childhood development program, in the space of less than three years had paid McAlister $356,495 as a consultant.

First Steps is governed by a board of trustees, with members appointed by the governor, the speaker of the state House, and the president pro tempore of the Senate.

In response to an open records request for payments by state agencies to political consultants, Santee Cooper, the state-owned electricity and water utility, said it has been paying Fred Allen & Associates, the Columbia-based lobbyists, $18,000 a year for “legislative monitoring” and “strategic advice.”

Mollie Gore, Santee Cooper’s corporate communications manager, said it gets good value from that firm.

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