Gov. Henry McMaster’s characterization last week of state-owned Santee Cooper as a “rogue agency” illustrates a larger problem.
Quasi-governmental agencies—like Santee Cooper, which sells a product—can’t serve two masters.
The utility hired lobbyists who worked to thwart McMaster’s efforts to sell it, according to emails released last week by his office.
Agencies lobbying the Legislature to protect their own interests, whether by in-house liaison or by contracted lobbyist, isn’t new.
The State Ports Authority, the South Carolina Administrative Law Court, and the John de la Howe School, a McCormick County school for children with behavioral problems—to name a few agencies—paid more than $48,000 to lobbyists in 2017 to represent their interests.
Many agencies hire their own liaisons as a go-between to connect with legislators. Others—like colleges and universities—spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on lobbyists.
And that’s a problem for the taxpayer.
It’s one thing for an agency to lobby lawmakers—we can debate the merits of that another day. It’s another for state-owned or taxpayer-funded agencies—quasi-governmental agencies that charge for a product—to employ lobbyists to protect their interests.
Under its current model, Santee Cooper’s interests are conflicted, at best.