Transpo Chairman’s Income Disclosure Lacking in Detail

June 10, 2015

Investigative Reports

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Larry GroomsOn the S.C. General Assembly’s website, Sen. Larry Grooms lists his occupation only as “Businessman.”

The Berkeley County Republican, who joined the Senate in 1997, chairs both the Senate Transportation Committee and Joint Transportation Review Committee, which nominates candidates to the S.C. Department of Transportation Commission.

As a commercial landlord, Grooms plays a supporting role in the transportation industry, records reviewed by The Nerve show.

Grooms owns adjacent buildings in Moncks Corner that house the Moncks Corner Shell convenience store and a Jiffy Lube business, according to Berkeley County property records. He also owns two buildings in St. Stephen and Bonneau where Kangaroo Express convenience stores are located, plus a mini-warehouse in Bonneau, records show.

When Grooms made an unsuccessful bid in 2013 for a U.S. House seat now held by former Gov. Mark Sanford, he filed a federal financial-disclosure report showing total rental income in 2012 of $131,005 to $302,500 on property in Bonneau, Moncks Corner and St. Stephen, and the city of Clemson in the Upstate. The federal forms list income amounts in ranges.

Pickens County property records show that Grooms’ wife, Carol Grooms, owns a condominium in a gated development located within walking distance of Clemson University, where, according to the General Assembly’s website, her husband graduated in 1987.

Berkeley County records show that the couple’s primary home for tax purposes, which is listed under her name, is located on Lake Moultrie in Bonneau. The couple also own another home on Daniel Island, which Grooms lists on the General Assembly’s website as his home address. In addition, Carol Grooms owns a 1.7-acre parcel in Bonneau near their Lake Moultrie home, records show.

Sen. Grooms’ federal financial-disclosure report filed in 2013 doesn’t list details about his rental properties other than the handwritten words “Lube” and “Pantry” for two of the properties. He reported no earned income for 2012 other than his $19,367 salary as a state senator, plus a collective $5,543 from Berkeley and Dorchester counties for “office support and payment,” though he was listed as president of Grooms Texaco Inc.

Grooms in 2013 told The Nerve that Grooms Texaco Inc., or GTI, was a “petroleum-leasing” company that had ceased operations two years earlier. He removed that position from the General Assembly’s website after he was contacted by The Nerve.

Although lacking in certain specifics, Grooms’ federal financial-disclosure report is more detailed than his recent annual state income-disclosure reports, called statements of economic interests, filed with the State Ethics Commission. None of his rental properties, for example, is listed in recent state reports; current state ethics law requires officials to report “business interests” only if they own at least 5 percent of a company’s outstanding stock and if the total value of those shares is $100,000 or more.

In his most recent state report filed on March 28, Grooms was listed as president of “Grooms Marketing LLC,” which, according to secretary of state records, he registered on Nov. 14 last year.

Since 2012, the South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – has repeatedly called for the mandatory disclosure of private sources of income, though not amounts, as part of its eight-point reform agenda. Lawmakers this year again failed to reform ethics laws to require private-income disclosure.

The Policy Council in 2013 launched “Project Conflict Watch” to encourage lawmakers and other officials to voluntarily report their private-income sources, including the sources of any rental and investment income. Grooms participated that year, identifying five commercial leases as sources of rental income, though he didn’t list specifics of those rental properties other than their addresses. He didn’t participate in the project last year.

This legislative session, Grooms publicly supported a Senate Republican Caucus plan that would have raised the state’s gas tax by 12 cents over three years – a nearly 72 percent jump – while cutting the state’s income tax brackets by 1 percentage point over five years and putting DOT more under the governor’s control. That proposal failed, as did other gas-tax-hike plans.

Grooms did not respond Tuesday to written and phone messages from The Nerve seeking comment on his income disclosure and property records.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.