COLUMBIA — The University of South Carolina spent more than $1 million for consulting and fundraising services from the now-embattled Richard Quinn & Associates and to one of the firm’s star clients, future Gov. Henry McMaster.
RQA and McMaster started working at the state’s flagship college on the same month, February 2011, just weeks after McMaster left the state attorney general’s office, according to USC documents received Thursday as part of a records request by The Post and Courier.
The documents reportedly were turned over to investigators in the Statehouse corruption probe that has been focusing on RQA, a powerhouse Columbia-area consulting firm with ties throughout the state’s political and business circles.
Investigators have obtained records from several other state agencies and businesses about their work with RQA over the years. No charges have been filed against RQA boss Richard Quinn. The probe led by 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe has netted one conviction and two indictment against three state lawmakers.
A USC spokesman did not respond Thursday to a question about the close timing of McMaster’s and RQA’s hiring at the university. Quinn, whose firm was paid $491,900 over more than four years as a strategic and public relations consultant to USC, declined comment.
McMaster said Thursday that he was recommended as a fundraiser for the new law school building by USC administrators and trustees after he did not get the job as dean of the law school. The Columbia attorney received $553,084 over nearly four years for his work. He started at USC about two weeks after Quinn and was also coming off a defeat in the 2010 Republican primary for governor, a race handled by his longtime consultant, RQA.
How RQA and McMaster landed at USC is not clear since a school spokesman did not respond Thursday to questions.
The documents handed out by USC did not provide proof that RQA started working for the school through the state contract bidding system, a period that lasted more than two years. That changed later when RQA won a contract to provide consulting work for USC that ran from mid-2013 to mid-2015, the last time the firm worked for the school, according to records.
The documents show USC first hired RQA at $7,500 a month for “providing assistance in research, issue analysis and in the creation of strategies, themes and messages.” The agreement used USC’s planned medical school expansion in Greenville as an example of a “difficult economic, political and cultural environment” challenge where the school needed assistance from the consultant.
RQA’s fee was raised to $9,500 a month just five months after starting, adding polling and graphic design work, according to a service proposal by the firm. That deal was supposed to run a year through June 2012, but USC kept paying RQA $9,500 a month for almost an additional year, according to the records. The school did not include any documents about extending the agreement.
In winning the USC contract in 2013, RQA started charging $150 per hour for assistance on “high-profile presidential initiatives and university actions.”
In the agreement that netted the firm $245,400 on its own, RQA was cited for helping with: proposals to cut regulatory hurdles for colleges; requests for USC President Harris Pastides’ involvement in national issues such as the Affordable Care Act and immigration; and winning final approval to build the new $80 million law school.
USC raised $5 million for the law school while McMaster earned more than $550,000, most of it in 2011 and 2012. His work at the university stopped after he became lieutenant governor in 2015.
It is not clear how much of the money raised was tied to McMaster’s efforts since the law school’s development arm also was working to gather contributions. A $2 million donation in 2013 from proceeds of a class-action suit given by two Columbia attorneys came independently of McMaster, said one of the donors, Charles Dibble.
McMaster told The Post and Courier he was pleased with his efforts: “I was hired to raise money for the law school and did so.”
McMaster helped in other ways, too. He was pivotal in winning $10 million in funding from the legislature, said his chief of staff, Trey Walker.
McMaster has not been a focus of the Statehouse corruption probe, but he has been hit because of his ties to Quinn, an issue that could come up in the 2018 governor’s race. Some critics have complained that Pascoe, a Democrat, has focused his probe on Republicans so far.
McMaster has continued to back his longtime political consultant and stressing his experience as a former U.S. attorney and S.C. attorney general in saying last month, "I probably don't get as excited about subpoenas as some people do."
Schuyler Kropf contributed to this report.