S.C. House staffer criticized for 8-week, paid leave
An S.C. House staffer who got consulting contracts from a political action committee run in part by his boss earned a state salary while receiving thousands of dollars from the PAC.
State ethics laws allow government employees to participate in campaigns while on their own time and away from state equipment and facilities.
The legality hasn’t stopped critics from blasting Greg Foster’s involvement with the PAC.
Foster took an eight-week, paid leave of absence from his $85,000-a-year government job to work for House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s Palmetto Leadership Council just before the November 2010 election, state records show.
Foster, Harrell’s communications director, earned more than $12,000 from the PAC during that time, according to data filed with the S.C. Ethics Commission. He received an additional $7,000 from the PAC in June, before the leave started, the records show.
“Any and all work that I have performed for this organization was while I was on leave from my duties up here,” Foster said Thursday. He declined to elaborate.
Among Foster’s critics was Ashley Landess, executive director of the S.C. Policy Council, a right-leaning think tank in Columbia.
“Almost two months off — it raises a question: How necessary are these employees to the taxpayers of South Carolina?” Landess said of Foster and other Statehouse staffers. “Legislators are part-time, so why should their staff be full-time?”
John Crangle of Common Cause South Carolina called Foster’s contract a “sweetheart deal” awarded because of the staffer’s connection to Harrell.
“Should the state tolerate this kind of conduct?” said Crangle, executive director of the government watchdog group.
Foster said he isn’t the only state employee to engage in election work. He did not name others.
“Around each election, there are a lot of folks who work on the political side of things,” Foster said.
He described his work for the Palmetto Leadership Council as “pro-business advocacy on conservative issues.”
“I can’t remember what all was going on,” he said.
The Palmetto Leadership Council is the only so-called “leadership PAC” — one associated with a state official — known to operate in the state, according to the S.C. Ethics Commission.
The group has doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and private contracts to sitting state lawmakers. PACs of any kind are unregulated by the state.
Foster — who was out of the office from Sept. 15 to Nov. 4, 2010 — used “comp and annual leave” to work for the PAC, according to an email he wrote to the House clerk. Workers like Foster who have fewer than 10 years of employment receive 15 vacation days a year. His leave leading up to the election included 38 weekdays.
Two days before the leave began, House clerk Charles Reid acknowledged Foster’s request, which required no formal approval, Reid said.
When the Legislature is out of session, leave is “typically granted without question as long as the employee has enough accrued time off,” Reid said in an email. “I checked on Mr. Foster’s available time off, at that time, and confirmed him to have enough accrued time off for that leave.”
Landess described the extended paid leave as “a perk of working in the public sector that is not available in the private sector.”
“How many private-sector workers get 38 days of annual leave?” Landess said. “How many private-sector workers who are salaried get comp time?”
Reach Renee Dudley at 937-5550 or on Twitter @renee_dudley.