Palmetto Politics: How the Richard Quinn fallout hits a down-ballot race | News

Beyond the legal and political ramifications of GOP kingmaker Richard Quinn’s indictment for allegedly orchestrating years of corruption in the South Carolina Statehouse, the demise of the longtime strategist’s political empire also is hitting his former clients’ campaigns.

Take Molly Spearman. The state superintendent of education relied on Quinn’s firm to manage much of her campaign’s technical aspects since first running for office in 2014. Her recent decision to abandon him, like Gov. Henry McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson, has revealed just how dependent she was.

On the final day before Spearman would have been fined for filing a late campaign finance disclosure this month, her staff posted a report that suggested her 2018 campaign had not spent any money in the past several months — despite holding a fundraiser in Florence in September, which costs money to organize.

Nine days later, Spearman’s campaign filed an amendment to that report. But instead of adding just a couple of accidentally missed entries, as amendments are intended to do, Spearman’s “amendment” amounted to an entirely new report.


Molly Spearman at Laing Middle School (copy)

S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman Paul Bowers/Staff

Suddenly, it turned out, Spearman had actually spent almost $5,000, including a large sum to law/lobbying firm Adams and Reese for consulting services. The new report also revealed several thousand dollars worth of additional campaign contributions.

Spearman’s spokesman, Ryan Brown, explained that the glaring omissions were due to the transitional pains of moving to new bookkeeping systems after ditching Quinn.

Translation: The campaign filed a significantly incomplete report to avoid scrutiny and fines so they could take another week and a half to get it together. Now, Brown said, the report is fully accurate.

Longtime S.C. government watchdog John Crangle said this is clearly not how the system is supposed to work. The campaign finance deadline is not a suggestion that candidates reveal only the donations and expenses they’ve kept organized — it’s a rule requiring them to disclose everything.

But for years, Crangle said, some campaigns have assumed they could get away with flouting ethics laws because nobody pays attention — particularly for lower-ballot positions like education superintendent. He bemoans that the State Ethics Commission is not given nearly enough funding or resources to seriously enforce the requirements.

As a result, Crangle said, “a lot of these campaigns are run in a very sloppy, haphazard fashion.”

Chamber endorses in local races, but will voters respond?

The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce‘s political action committee has made its picks for next month’s elections in Charleston and Mount Pleasant.

But will its endorsements help or hurt? It’s a fair question after the chamber’s PAC saw its batting average take a dip after 2015, particularly after none of its four Mount Pleasant council picks managed to win (all losing to candidates voicing more wariness of development).

The chamber also went one for three in the mayoral contests for Charleston, North Charleston and Summerville (only North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey had the chamber’s backing).

This year, the chamber is backing Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page, who is seeking a second term against challenger Will Haynie. It also has endorsed Kathy Landing, John Mahoney, Rodly Millet and Tom O’Rourke for the four Mount Pleasant Town Council seats up for grabs Nov. 7.


Mount Pleasant Mayor candidates

Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page (left) and challenger Will Haynie

In the city of Charleston, the chamber is backing challengers Kevin Shealy (in District 2, against incumbent Rodney Williams) and Summer Massey (in District 10, facing incumbent Dean Riegel). It also is backing incumbent council member Kathleen Wilson in District 12 but is staying neutral in District 6, where incumbent William Dudley Gregorie faces a challenge from Amy Brennan.

In many of these races, controlling growth has been a main theme, so for voters concerned about development, the chamber’s backing might be seen as a red flag. Since 2000, when the chamber formed its political action committee, about two-thirds of its endorsed candidates have won.

The Charleston’s chamber involvement in local races is a bit of an outlier. Neither the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce nor the Columbia Chamber makes endorsements in local races. The Greenville Chamber of Commerce endorses only in Statehouse races.

Former Cayce lawmaker spends $25,000 on attorney 

Former State Rep. Kenny Bingham, a Cayce Republican who decided not to seek re-election last year, has spent nearly $25,000 from his campaign account on North Charleston attorney Brady Hair between May and September, according to state filings. Bingham, whose daughters have sued The Post and Courier for defamation, declined comment, and Hair did not return calls. News of Bingham’s legal spending was first reported by

Lawmakers can use campaign funds for political-related legal fees. Bingham has roughly $135,000 left in his campaign account after 16 years in office. Bingham was a client of Columbia-area political consultant Richard Quinn, who was indicted in the ongoing Statehouse corruption probe along with six lawmakers who used Quinn’s firm. Bingham has not been charged.

Another Dem weighs 2018 governor bid

Democratic activist Marguerite Willis, co-chairwoman of Nexsen Pruet’s antitrust practice, tells Palmetto Politics that she is considering a bid to run for South Carolina governor next year.

“Everything is on the table,” the wife of former Florence Mayor Frank Willis said.

Willis hosted barbecue lunch for then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2007 in Florence and made the front page of The New York Times in a photo holding “Girl Power” sign as a delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. 

She did not offer a deadline for a decision to join Rep. James Smith of Columbia and Charleston businessman Phil Noble as 2018 Democratic hopefuls. Other Dems still weighing gubernatorial runs are state Sens. John Scott of Columbia and Gerald Malloy of Hartsville.

Jamie Lovegrove, Robert Behre, Seanna Adcox and Andy Shain contributed.