The sponsors helping pay the cost of Gov. Henry McMaster’s inauguration festivities included South Carolina’s two largest utilities and another utility — NextEra — angling to buy the state-owned Santee Cooper power company.
Florida-based NextEra now has no operations in South Carolina. But it is interested in buying Santee Cooper, which McMaster wants to sell after it racked up $4 billion in debt from a failed nuclear project.
NextEra was one of 11 platinum sponsors for McMaster’s inaugural ball, the level of sponsors who paid the most —$25,000 each.
Among the next highest level sponsors were utilities Dominion Energy, which bought embattled Cayce-based utility SCANA in the wake of that V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project’s collapse, and Duke Energy.
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“We sponsor the inauguration, as many companies and organizations do, to help the people of South Carolina celebrate the continuation of the time-honored traditions associated with the democratic process in our state,” Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said, adding the utility has sponsored previous inaugurations.
Spokespersons for NextEra and Dominion Energy did not respond to requests to comment Friday.
The governor’s office said the utilities’ contributions — and those by other businesses — were examples of good corporate citizenship.
“Companies that do business in the state and serve our people have a long history of supporting inaugural events, and Governor McMaster appreciates that they joined South Carolinians in celebrating on Wednesday,” McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said.
However, others say the V.C. Summer debacle proved utilities have too much influence over the state, which regulates them.
“They have way too much influence and a cozy relationship with state government,” said state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, who introduced legislation last year to block utilities from making campaign donations to state elected officials.
“Certainly, the governor did not nothing illegal or wrong … but my preference to restore consumer confidence is by eliminating their ability to build favorable relationships in state government that consumers don’t have access too.”
Pledges of $815,000
Businesses and individuals pledged at least $815,000 to pay for inaugural events held for all statewide elected officials, including the governor, according to a listing and breakdown of sponsors provided by the 97th South Carolina Inaugural Committee.
That committee still is paying bills and has not yet closed its books on the inaugural events, a representative said.
A total of 78 sponsors pledged to pay for Wednesday night’s black-tie gala and other inaugural activities, many of them past contributors to previous S.C. inaugurations, including those of former Gov. Nikki Haley.
Some donors gave both to the campaigns of Republican McMaster and his Democratic challenger for governor, James Smith. Some also gave to both the governor’s campaign and to the inaugural committee, including Duke Energy.
The list of inaugural donors includes some of South Carolina’s largest employers, some of whom have received state tax incentives for expansions that brought jobs to the state. Those employers include automotive, aerospace and manufacturing giants BMW, Boeing, Bridgestone, Continental Tire, Daimler North America Corp., Giti Tire, Michelin and Samsung Electronics..
Eleven companies pledged or donated $25,000 each as top-paying “platinum sponsors” — NextEra, AFLAC, Altria, BlueCross BlueShield, Boeing, Century Aluminum of South Carolina, Charter Communications, HMR Veterans Services, Nucor, S.C. Hospital Association, and Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association of South Carolina.
Nine businesses, including Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, gave $15,000 each as “gold” sponsors, the next highest paying level.
Solar installer Southern Current donated $10,000 as a “silver” sponsor.
Virtually all of the donors have interests before the General Assembly, which started its session earlier this month. The solar industry, for instance, wants legislators to allow it to expand. Utilities want limits on solar expansion.
Unlike campaign contributions — limited to $3,500 for each primary, runoff and general election — there is no limit on what a company or individual can contribute to defray inauguration costs.
‘Tremendous civics lesson’
More than 2,000 tickets were sold for the $250-a-couple ball at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
Donors often include their inaugural expenses in their budgets and do not expect anything in return, said former S.C. GOP chairman Katon Dawson, who was chairman of Haley’s 2011 inaugural committee.
“A lot of the people who give, it’s a reward to the people who work for the companies or entities, whether AT&T or some of the others,” Dawson said. “It’s a reward because it’s a lot of fun, regardless of whether it’s a Democrat or Republican ... and it’s a tremendous civics lesson in getting to see the transfer of power in a democracy ... and meet the people who run our government.”
During the campaign, McMaster was criticized for taking campaign contributions from SCANA and its executives. SCANA bundled at least $115,000 in contributions to McMaster from the utility, its political action committee and employees in the weeks before it walked away from the failed $9 billion V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project.
Despite those contributions, McMaster said he was tough on SCANA.
McMaster forced Santee Cooper, SCANA’s junior partner in the failed nuclear project, to disclose the secret 2015 Bechtel report. That report, commissioned by the two utilities, detailed insufficient oversight of the nuclear project.
After the nuclear debacle, the Republican governor also vetoed legislation to cut the electric rates of SCANA subsidiary SCE&G by 15 percent, saying those rates should be cut by more — 18 percent.
97th S.C. inaugural sponsors
Platinum sponsors ($25,000 each): AFLAC, Altria, BlueCross BlueShield of S.C., Boeing Co., Century Aluminum of S.C., Charter Communications, HMR Veterans Services, NextEra Energy, Nucor, S.C. Hospital Association, Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association of S.C.
Gold sponsors ($15,000 each): Advance America, AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Cos., Daimler North America Corp., Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Fluor, Nephron Pharmaceuticals, Nexsen Pruet, Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein
Silver sponsors ($10,000 each): Absolute Total Care, Anthem, Bill and Rachael Best, BMW, Continental Tire, DaVita, Giti Tire, Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, JES Holdings, Michelin, NutraMax Laboratories, RAI, Samsung Electronics, SAS Institute, SC Automobile Dealers Association, S.C. Beverage Association, S.C. Retail Association, Southern Current, Thermal Engineering Corp., The Trafalgar Group, UnitedHealth Group, WellCare Health Plans, Willoughby & Hoefer
Bronze sponsors ($5,000 each): AECOM, Alliance Consulting Engineers, AT&T, Bank of America, BP America, Bridgestone, The Capital Corp., Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company, Comcast, CSX, Exodus Aircraft/Josh Kimbrell, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, Van Hipp, Hospital Corp. of America, JM Family Enterprises, McAlister Communications, McWhirter Bellinger & Associates, Microsoft, Molina Healthcare, Nelson Mullins, Norfolk Southern Corp., Pfizer, Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina, PUSH Digital, S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association, S.C. Chamber of Commerce, S.C. Dental Association, S.C. Interactive, S.C. Manufacturers Association, S.C. Ports Authority, Simmons Law Firm, Sonoco, Stern & Stern, TitleMax, Wellpath