Democratic candidate for governor State Sen. Vincent Sheheen on Monday called for prohibiting businesses that receive tax incentives or economic development grants from donating to a candidate who helped them secure those incentives. Sheheen also attacked his opponent, incumbent Gov. Nikki Haley, saying such donations the Republican has accepted are part of a “rampant” “pay-to-play” culture.
Sheheen’s comments came a few days after bicycle manufacturer Kent International held a groundbreaking for a new assembly facility in Manning. The company said it plans to eventually hire more than 200 employees at the plant. Later that same day, Haley’s campaign released a television ad that featured Kent’s CEO Arnold Kamler saying his company “worked with Governor Haley and we found South Carolina was the best place for us.” The State newspaper also found that Kent International had contributed $2,500 to Haley’s campaign in June.
Sheheen was furious. “There is no level of pay-to-play that’s worse than that,” he told reporters during a Monday news conference. “You can’t sink any lower.”
The Kershaw legislator said he will seek to change state law to prohibit companies, or their owners and principals, from donating to a state official who had helped secure grant funding or tax breaks for them.
“Companies that receive economic incentives from the Governor’s Office or (Department of) Commerce have an incentive to give contributions that (are) financial and not because of good government,” he said. “Our role should be to make sure that that pay-to-play culture, which has become rampant, is stamped out.” He said it would be similar to an existing ban on contributions from registered lobbyists.
Sheheen said he’s not aware of any contributions he may have received from businesses that benefitted from incentives approved by the state Senate (such as Amazon or Boeing), but pledged to return them if he had.
Kamler has praised Gov. Haley in public even before Kent International donated to her reelection campaign. During an interview with South Carolina Radio Network in January (shortly after Kent announced its plans in Manning), Kamler said the Commerce Department “knocked my socks off” and that Haley “was quite a salesperson. She could sell ice to the Eskimos.”
“She was just very convincing that whatever we would require to make the project successful, she would do everything in her power,” Kamler said in the January interview. “And, while we talked to other states, we were never talking to the level of the governor.”
He said the company ultimately selected South Carolina due to it being a “Right to Work” state that is somewhat hostile to unions and because of a favorable workforce training program he said was suited to Kent’s needs.
Meanwhile, a Haley campaign spokeswoman defended the ad Friday saying it was purposely meant to coincide with last week’s groundbreaking.“Gov. Haley’s whiny opponents should go to Clarendon and say they’d rather have these jobs stay in China,” spokeswoman Chaney Adams told The State newspaper.