UTIL­I­TIES HELP PAY TAB FOR THE BALL

The Beaufort Gazette - - Front Page - BY TOM BAR­TON tbar­[email protected]­tate.com

Spon­sors for Gov. Henry Mc­Mas­ter’s in­au­gu­ra­tion fes­tiv­i­ties in­cluded the state’s two largest util­i­ties and an­other util­ity an­gling to buy San­tee Cooper.

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 bil- lion 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.

“We spon­sor the in­au­gu­ra­tion, as many com­pa­nies and or­ga­ni­za­tions do, to help the peo­ple of South Carolina cel­e­brate the con­tin­u­a­tion of the time­honored 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 black­tie 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 top­pay­ing “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-acou­ple 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.

TIM DOMINICK tdo­[email protected]­tate.com

Gov. Henry Mc­Mas­ter waves to the crowd gath­ered at the State House for his in­au­gu­ra­tion as South Carolina's 117th gov­er­nor.

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