COLUMBIA — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster raised more money from private donors for his inauguration than his predecessor, Nikki Haley, while receiving contributions from three potential buyers for South Carolina's state-run utility.
McMaster, a Republican Columbia lawyer who has been involved in South Carolina politics for three decades, gathered $815,000 from 78 donors, according to data released by the governor's campaign Friday. That is roughly one-third more than what Haley, who resigned in 2017 to become United Nations ambassador, collected for her inaugurations in 2010 and 2014.
All but two of McMaster's inaugural donations came from businesses.
The corporate interest was not a surprise. The governor raised roughly 45 percent of his $8.1 million in campaign contributions from businesses — triple the percentage of Democratic challenger James Smith.
But unlike campaign contributions that are capped at $3,500 per election by state law, donations to inaugurals are unlimited.
Eleven companies donated the highest gift level that the inaugural committee offered for Wednesday's events at $25,000.
They included: insurers AFLAC and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina; cigarette maker Altria; aircraft maker Boeing; nursing-home manager HMR Veterans Services; aluminum producer Century Aluminum; steel producer Nucor; cable operator Charter Communications; and trade groups, S.C. Hospital Association and Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association of S.C.
Florida power giant, NextEra Energy, also gave $25,000 — joining Virginia's Dominion Energy and North Carolina's Duke Energy that each kicked in $15,000 — as potential buyers of state-run Santee Cooper donating to McMaster's inauguration.
The governor has strongly backed selling the Moncks Corner-based utility that has amassed $8 billion in debt after partnering with S.C. Electric & Gas on the failed V.C. Summer nuclear reaction expansion. SCE&G's parent, SCANA, completed its sale to Dominion last week after the Cayce-based company struggled in the wake of the nuclear project flop.
The final decision on selling Santee Cooper is up to the Legislature.
McMaster inauguration sponsors included 16 health care-related and insurance firms ($190,000 total), nine statewide industry trade groups ($100,000), seven law firms ($65,000) and four tiremakers ($35,000).
Automakers Daimler North America and BMW, both of which have Palmetto State plants, combined to give $25,000, while payday lenders, Advance America and TitleMax, chipped in $20,000.
Microsoft and SC Interactive, which runs the state's website, each gave $5,000 — the smallest gift level available for inaugural sponsorships.
The State Ports Authority, whose board once included McMaster and whose chairman Bill Stern led the governor's inaugural committee, chipped in $5,000. Stern's Columbia commercial real estate company also donated $5,000.