COLUMBIA — South Carolina's attorney general received campaign donations from private lawyers he hired to pursue a case against drug maker Eli Lilly & Co., a potential violation of state law.
Campaign finance records and state contracts reviewed by The Associated Press show that two attorneys Henry McMaster hired in 2006 to help sue the company then donated $7,000 to his campaign between June 2007 and March 2009.
McMaster spokesman Mark Plowden said Thursday that the contributions were legal and contended a judge's order issued this week exonerates McMaster, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.
"There is absolutely nothing wrong with those contributions," Plowden said. "It's black and white. There's really no gray area for us."
The 1991 state law says nobody awarded a contract by a public official without a bidding process, which was the case with the contracted lawyers in the Eli Lilly case, can make a campaign contribution to that official.
Cathy Hazelwood, deputy director and general counsel for the State Ethics Commission, said the judge's order does not clear the attorney general.
"McMaster should probably start tallying up that kind of money and see how he's going to give it all back," she said. "When you figure it out, you make the correction."
McMaster hired the lawyers to help the state in a lawsuit against Eli Lilly to recover state funds used to treat illnesses allegedly caused by the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa.
In 2006, he signed a contract with Spartanburg attorney John B. White and Columbia attorney John S. Simmons to help.
Campaign records show that in November 2007, White gave the Republican $2,000 for his re-election campaign and gave $1,500 more in March of this year. Simmons gave McMaster $3,500 in September 2008.
The allegation that the men had made improper contributions first was raised in a motion filed by Eli Lilly that sought to remove White and Simmons from the case.
That motion was tossed out Tuesday in a 38-page order by Circuit Court Judge Roger Couch. The judge also wrote that because the state law did not prohibit Eli Lilly attorneys from donating to McMaster, it was unfair and could not be used in the case.
"It is clear that no actual prejudice whatever has been shown here," Couch wrote.