The Associated Press is reporting that state Attorney General Henry McMaster may have violated state law by accepting campaign donations from private lawyers he hired to pursue the case against drug manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company. Campaign records and contracts reviewed by A.P. show that two attorneys McMaster hired in 2006 to help sue the company donated $7,000 to his campaign between June 2007 and March 2009.
Responding to a question e-mailed by a citizen during the first Republican gubernatorial debate in Newberry Tuesday night, McMaster said he does take campaign contributions from attorneys he has hired.
“Yes! As Attorney General it falls to me to select lawyers to represent the state of South Carolina and its agencies. They have to come through my office. There are a lot of lawyers and non-lawyers that make contributions to me and my opponents.”
McMaster sued Eli Lilly to recover state funds used to treat illnesses allegedly caused by an anti-psychotic drug. McMaster says that he is utilizing private attorneys to work on the state’s water case against the state of North Carolina involving the Catawba River.
During the debate, McMaster explained that he hires attorneys for specific jobs based on their expertise and not if they contribute to his campaign fund. “My job as attorney general is to find the very finest lawyers to handle these cases. These cases are important and the fact that they made a contribution to me or to my opponent has nothing to do with it. What we do is find the lawyers that we need to handle the cases to do the work for South Carolina and we have done that very successfully.”
In the A.P. report, McMaster spokesman Mark Plowden is quoted as saying that the contributions mentioned in the report were legal, however State Ethics Commission investigator Cathy Hazelwood says that state law prohibits contractors from contributing to officials who hired them and that McMaster should consider returning the money.