COLUMBIA — State investigators leading an ongoing corruption probe have started to ask questions about whether Richard Quinn & Associates' campaign consulting work and public relations efforts ever overlapped and turned into lobbying in the South Carolina Statehouse.
A handful of former state lawmakers, who were also paid by the influential firm for political campaign work during their time in office, were called before the state grand jury last month to answer questions about their interactions with the now-scrutinized consulting company.
Former Richland County representative James Harrison confirmed he had appeared before special prosecutor David Pascoe last month, and Tracy Edge, a former Horry County lawmaker, and his attorney told The Post and Courier he had done the same.
Edge was not willing to comment on his interactions with the grand jury because the investigation is ongoing, but both he and Harrison said they were given assurances they were not targets of the probe.
The probe already has led to the guilty plea of former House Speaker Bobby Harrell and the indictments of Rep. Jim Merrill and Sen. John Courson. All are Republicans.
Harrison, who previously served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was more forthcoming about his dealings with investigators.
The more than 20-year Statehouse veteran said he was asked to come before the state grand jury as a witness to discuss his relationship with the powerful consulting company, which is owned by Richard Quinn of Columbia.
“They wanted to know how RQA operated, who the employees were, who had the records, and of course, what my involvement was with RQA,” Harrison said.
Quinn, who has been an influential force in South Carolina politics for nearly four decades, has emerged as a key figure in Pascoe's investigation. He has not been charged with a crime, but investigators have reportedly seized records from his firm. RQA also was named in an indictment accusing Courson, a Columbia Republican, of improperly funneling campaign money through the consultant for personal gain.
During his time in elected office, Harrison said he was paid a biweekly salary to help run the firm's statewide political campaigns — something that is allowed under state law.
That work included campaigns for former presidential candidate John McCain, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and South Carolina's newly-situated governor, Henry McMaster.
Harrison was solely involved in campaign work, he said. But investigators wanted to know if his work and compensation with the company ever started "bleeding over into lobbying."
“It was more overall broad questions about how Richard Quinn & Associates operates the campaign side of the business and the public relations side of the business," said Harrison, who was confirmed this week as a new board member of The Citadel.
At no point during his time working with Quinn, Harrison said, did he ever see those varying facets of the business cross.
“Those are two things that you can easily separate,” he said. “I never saw any overlap in the two.”
Harrison declined to say how much he was paid for his work, but said it was far less than he could have made if he had devoted that time to his law practice. He saw his work with Quinn as a public service, as he was helping promote politicians like Graham, he said.
“Money isn’t a motivating factor for many people. If my motivation would have been to make as much money as I could make, I probably would have never served in the House,” Harrison said. “I enjoy campaigns. I enjoyed my own campaigns.”
Edge, who is being represented by attorney and state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said he was not an employee of the consulting firm, like Harrison, but was paid as a campaign consultant. He was formerly a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
John Crangle, government relations director for the watchdog South Carolina Progressive Network, said he's not surprised the special prosecutor is looking into whether the state's part-time lawmakers were acting as "de facto lobbyists."
That type of "internal lobbying" work among lawmakers, he said, was common before Operation Lost Trust, the federal corruption investigation that ended in the 1990s with multiple corruption convictions.
A previous version of this story misstated Tracy Edge's affiliation with the House Ways and Means Committee. He was the chairman of the Healthcare Budget Subcommittee.