A former S.C. Chamber of Commerce chairman and ally of former Gov. Nikki Haley is helping to bank roll Gov. Henry McMaster’s insurgent GOP challenger.
Mikee Johnson, a lumber magnate from Orangeburg, has funneled about $57,800 to Republican Catherine Templeton through donations, including from family members and more than a dozen of his companies.
The maximum amount a single contributor can give to a S.C. political candidate in an election cycle is $3,500. However, by contributing in the name of his companies – a legal loophole in S.C. law – Johnson has been able to give far more.
Johnson said Wednesday he supported Haley and thinks Templeton’s principles “follow suit and will continue that effort.”
His support for Templeton, he added, is “nothing against Gov. McMaster. I appreciate him filling this role.”
But, he added, “while Gov. McMaster is our governor, he wasn’t elected.”
McMaster, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2014, became governor in January, when Haley resigned to become President Donald Trump’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
McMaster faces a contested GOP primary next June – against Templeton and former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill – to win a four-year term.
Templeton has emerged as McMaster’s most serious opponent, trailing the Richland Republican closely in fund raising. Templeton has raised about $1.5 million while McMaster has raised close to $1.8 million.
Asked about Johnson’s support of Templeton, McMaster campaign consultant Tim Pearson, a former Haley political adviser and chief of staff, called Johnson “a great guy and someone I consider a friend. He just must have had a different experience with Catherine than” he did working with her in state government.
Support ‘not unusual’
Johnson said he “was certainly a zealous advocate” for Haley, but was not in the financial position to aid the former governor the way he is helping Templeton, a Charleston attorney who was head of the state’s labor, and health and environmental agencies under Haley.
“It’s not unusual,” Templeton said Wednesday of Johnson’s support, which, she added, included hosting a fundraiser for her and inviting her to a family barbecue, attended by prominent S.C. Republicans. “He’s been extremely generous, and I’m glad he’s putting support behind me.”
The support from the former S.C. Chamber chair – named the business group’s 2016 businessman of the year – gives Templeton a boost from an influential business leader and GOP booster.
Johnson is chief executive officer of Cox Industries, a family-owned timber company with 16 plants and more than 400 employees, according to its website.
Johnson, his wife Cyndi and a teenage son all have given $3,500 each – the maximum contribution a candidate can accept from a single contributor in an election cycle – to Templeton this year. Johnson said his son, 18, is an owner of the family business and also works for the company before he heads to Clemson University.
Templeton also received mostly $3,500 contributions from Cox Industries and 14 other Johnson businesses, located around the state and in other states.
The Charleston attorney also raised an additional $25,000 from other Orangeburg residents and businesses.
Multiplying campaign cash
Johnson used a legal loophole to increase his contributions to Templeton, a maneuver that has been used by others – including Gov. McMaster.
In South Carolina, candidates for statewide office can accept up to $3,500 from a single contributor during an election cycle.
But contributors can be people or businesses. That means contributors with multiple businesses can make multiple contributions.
While on a smaller scale than Johnson, for example, Dan Adams, president and chief executive of the Capital Corp. in Greenville, has given McMaster $3,500. Adams’ Capital Corp. and four other companies, all with the same address, also gave $3,500 each to the governor. Another Adams business gave another $3,500.
New York millionaire real-estate investor Howard Rich is a more extreme example of a contributor with multiple companies using those companies to give more than an everyday S.C. voter can.
Rich, a limited-government libertarian, funneled more than $150,000 to state legislators and their opponents through various corporations immediately before the November 2012 election.
What S.C. Republicans running for governor have raised. No Democrats have announced plans to seek the office.
Total: $1.77 million
Cash on hand: $1.49 million
Total: $1.45 million
Cash on hand: $1.33 million
Cash on hand: $12,203