“Lexington County can’t be bought — not from New York City, Greenville or anywhere.” -Jake Knotts, The State, 6/25/08
“They’re outside of the state, trying to do a hostile takeover of state government. ”-Gene Pinson, The State, 6/2/08
“My contributions have been from people and or companies that I know, people I work with .” -Bill Sandifer, The Daily Journal, 5/31/08
“They’re trying to get a bloc of legislators that they control… They don’t care one flip about this state.” Keith Kelly, The Spartanburg Herald Journal 3/23/08
Over the course of the most recent primary season in South Carolina, few subjects were discussed with the same frequency and intensity as “out-of-state special interests.” Newspapers, talk radio and blogs have expended much print space and time in discussing the impact of “out of state” money on South Carolina elections.
In all the pious editorials about “outside influence” and indignant comments by incumbent politicians, the real story of out of state corporate-bought influence has been studiously avoided.
In reality, the politically motivated uproar has been carefully crafted to mislead voters by trying to convince them that out of state money in local races is a recent phenomenon exclusively tied to education reform groups.
The real situation is much bigger and far more disturbing.
Corrupt South Carolina politicians maintain power through an incumbency machine running on money from out of state, corporate special interests.
Many of the very politicians who rage against contributions from people or groups outside South Carolina routinely accept large donations from corporations that stand to make a financial profit from friends in the General Assembly.
This barely concealed spoils system seems to be working well for everyone except the taxpayers.
As a result, the most grasping element of career politicians stay in office, and profiteering companies ensure their own VIP status with the legislature.
According to a 2008 report by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, South Carolina currently has a 96% incumbency rate. Not bad odds for the politicians who act so outraged if someone announces against them.
Few members of the General Assembly represent the pay-to-play model of politics as clearly as Dan Cooper (R) of Anderson.
As Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Cooper knows exactly whose back needs scratching. Judging from his financial contributors, he must view Big Tobacco, payday lenders, and pharmaceutical companies as the constituents most worth pleasing. Money talks, and it doesn’t say good things about the chairman of the most powerful committee in the House of Representatives.
In Cooper’s January 10th, 2008 Ethics Filing he lists almost $19,000 of contributions just from out of state corporations.
Here are a few examples:
Check into Cash (TN): $1,000
Reynolds American (NC): $1,000
Altria Philip Morris USA (GA): $1,000
Bristol-Myers Squib (NJ): $1,000
Diageo North America ( CT): $1,000
the list goes on and on.
In total, Cooper lists well over $31,000 in out of state corporate contributions just for 2007 and part of 2008.
That’s far from all of the corporate whoring out.
Many of these same corporations poured thousands of dollars more into Cooper’s SC Leadership PAC. In 2007-08 Cooper got another $47,500 just from out of state corporations ( many of the same companies that gave Cooper money personally also gave full contributions to his PAC).
Apply some simple arithmetic and PRESTO: Cooper took in more than $79,250 through out of state special interest money in 2007-2008.
Where are the editorials and articles condemning this brazen example of corporations influencing state government? Here is a man in the highest levels of South Carolina state government who is openly taking contributions from groups that can profit from his decisions. Why the silence?
Dan Cooper is just one example of this hypocrisy. Ironically, some of the politicians quoted at the beginning of this post have taken large amounts from these same companies.
The unbelievable corruption and lack of accountability in South Carolina state government in reflected in the state’s economy, and most sadly, in its education system. South Carolina voters deserve the real story on the entrenched politicians who commandeer the future of the state for their own ends.
In the days to come, The Voice for School Choice will be bringing to light more of the hypocrisy and sordid dealings that rule in Columbia.