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Lobbying bill to move NFL Panthers' HQ to South Carolina cost less than $50,000

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South Carolina State of the State (copy)

In addition to supporting the Carolina Panthers' decision to move the team's headquarters move from North Carolina to South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster got a replica helmet. File/Sean Rayford/AP

The tax break that South Carolina lawmakers gave the Carolina Panthers to move its practice fields and headquarters across the border was a Statehouse bargain.

For the Panthers.

The lobbyist disclosure report filed by Panthers Football LLC — the entity created to support the deal — shows the tab for getting the estimated up to $115 million in tax breaks passed through the Legislature ran to about $48,500.

Most of the money, about $44,000, went to two Panthers-retained lobbyists: Darrell Campbell, a 19-year lobbying veteran who has represented Duke Energy, beer wholesalers and trade groups, and Robert Smith II.

Campbell described himself as a dedicated Panther supporter.

"I've been a fan from the time they came to the Carolinas," he said.  

Among the other miscellaneous expenses listed in the report was $600 for a luncheon for members of the Senate's Democratic Caucus in early May. It came at a time when senators were more divided over the legislation.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster also received a replica helmet, the report said. It cost $147.40, according to the disclosure filed with the S.C. Ethics Commission.

The comparatively minimal expense to make it happen shows how eager members of the General Assembly and the Panthers were to get the deal done. News of the proposal was first disclosed by The Post and Courier in December. The agreement was sealed by spring.

McMaster, as the package's biggest cheerleader, helped grease it along, as well, through the Republican-dominated Legislature.

At its heart, the deal gives the Panthers a 15-year break on employee payroll taxes. The money that would have gone to the state coffers must be used to improve the complex. For that, the team is expected to build a sprawling new Panthers layout in York County where boosters say it will lead to new medical facilities, hotels and retail sites around the Rock Hill area.

The Panthers complex also is expected to get a $40 million interchange off Interstate 77.

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The Panthers will continue to play games in Charlotte.

One of the deal's early critics, state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Columbia, told Palmetto Politics the Panthers wasted their money paying lobbyists.

Carolina already had a powerful team of supporters. McMaster and top legislative leaders appeared together at a news conference when the Panthers bill was introduced in March. 

"You had the governor's office, the chairman of Senate finance (committee), the president of the Senate and more in their corner," Harpootlian said. "They brought down (head coach) Ron Rivera and (team mascot) Sir Purr. This is was pretty well decided some time ago. I don't think they needed to spend a dime."

Harpootlian held up the Panthers' tax break bill for several weeks after it passed in the House to shed light on the jobs claims. The state estimated that the complex would generate 5,700 jobs within 15 years with expected spinoff businesses. A former state economist hired by the senator put the number closer to 200.

"I could have killed it," Harpootlian said. "I wanted to show why it wasn't a good deal."

Harpootlian released his objection to the bill, which passed in the Senate and was signed quickly by McMaster.

The governor has compared the Panthers complex to some of South Carolina’s biggest economic development projects including BMW and Boeing.

“This just shows what can happen when you have a great team of people working together for the common good,” McMaster said during a ceremonial bill signing in Rock Hill.

As a reward for his efforts, the governor received the helmet autographed by Rivera just days ahead of the Senate vote. It sits in his office.

For its part, the Panthers said the organization is looking forward to what team owner David Tepper has dubbed “Two States, One Team.”

"We’re excited about the project for a number of reasons, from how it will help the team on the field from a competitive standpoint and how we feel it’s going to impact the region and the state," said Steven Drummond, vice president of communications and external affairs.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.