bill stern richard quinn pamela lackey (copy) (copy)

State Ports Authority board members Bill Stern (left) and Pamela Lackey are shown meeting with political consultant Richard Quinn in January 2017. File/John A. Carlos II/For The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — Republican primary challengers are taking aim at Gov. Henry McMaster for using Ports Authority chairman Bill Stern to help fundraise for his campaign, highlighting connections to ousted state Rep. Rick Quinn and his father, embattled political consultant Richard Quinn.

Last week, McMaster's campaign sent a fundraising email that included a note from Stern, a Columbia real estate developer, offering to match contributions for any supporters who donated that day. In the note to McMaster, Stern highlighted how an outside group that once opposed Trump is running ads supporting primary foe Catherine Templeton. 

"She's never been a big fan of President Trump," Stern wrote. "However, I am surprised they're targeting you and spreading lies about your campaign."

The email has reenergized McMaster's challengers who question whether the GOP stalwart has removed himself from key figures connected to the ongoing Statehouse corruption probe. Richard Quinn was his longtime political consultant.

Stern has described Richard Quinn as a friend and consulted with him on a possible run for governor. Quinn's firm was ensnared in the probe and paid a fine for failing to register as a lobbyist. Stern also once partnered in a company with Richard's son, Rick Quinn, who left the General Assembly last year after pleading guilty to a misconduct in office charge. Stern did not return calls Monday.

"Only a career politician like Henry McMaster would be so arrogant and out of touch with reality as to send a fundraising email from corrupt politician Rick Quinn's former business partner," said Laura Beth Kirsop, a spokeswoman for GOP gubernatorial challenger John Warren.

The email reignited a feud between Stern and Templeton, who like Warren is running on a pledge of tackling corruption in state government.

Templeton accused Stern of orchestrating her removal as a vice president at the Ports Authority in 2015 because she raised questions about the agency's dealings with Richard Quinn. The Ports Authority had paid more than $2.5 million to Quinn-tied public relations and political consulting firms.

Ports Authority President Jim Newsome denied Templeton's claim, saying he fired her because she was not a "good fit" and that Stern was not involved.

When the Ports Authority board voted to suspend the agency's agreement with Richard Quinn last year, Stern railed against the move because Quinn and his firm had not been charged at the time.

"It’s not remotely surprising that the same man who fought to keep taxpayer money flowing to Henry's indicted political consultant would offer to buy the governor's race for Henry," Templeton said.

Templeton, a former two-time state agency head, reiterated Monday that she supports Trump, although she backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2016 GOP presidential primary.

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McMaster, Stern and Templeton all have ties to Trump. The governor was the first statewide politician to back the New York developer's presidential run and Trump endorsed him in return last fall. Stern, a longtime GOP fundraiser, chaired Southeastern Business Coalition for Trump's campaign. Templeton visited Trump Tower after the 2016 election about joining the U.S. Department of Labor.

Caroline Anderegg, a spokeswoman for McMaster's campaign, said the governor appreciates Stern's support and dismissed the "misleading attacks and distractions" from McMaster's opponents.

"Like the governor, Bill was an early supporter of President Trump, which is more than can be said for our opponents," Anderegg said.


Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.