Mega-donors gave $300K boost to Haley’s Great Day Adelson, Koch brothers helped her target foes

In this May 4, 2015, file photo, Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson speaks in Las Vegas. Adelson gave $250,000 to Gov. Nikki Haley’s political advocacy group A Great Day SC.

COLUMBIA — Conservative mega-fundraisers Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers gave Gov. Nikki Haley’s political advocacy group a major infusion of cash to help in her bid to remove four Republican state Senate rivals in primaries this spring.

Adelson, a Las Vegas casino mogul who was the top Republican donor of the 2012 presidential campaign, sent $250,000 to Haley’s A Great Day SC three weeks before the June primaries.

The Koch brothers gave the group $50,000, according to quarterly Internal Revenue Service filings.

The money represents about one-third of the nearly $1 million given to A Great Day primarily by out-of-state donors. But the cash did not perform as Haley hoped since only one of the governor’s four targets was defeated in the June primary.

Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon said the contributions from two of the nation’s leading conservative backers had deeper significance; it showed their willingness to dabble in South Carolina politics.

“It’s hard to believe that people outside the state really cared about the fate of Sen. Hugh Leatherman,” Huffmon said, referencing Haley’s biggest foe in the Senate, the president pro tempore from Florence.

“The Koch brothers do care about state-by-state politics, that has been their strategy,” Huffmon said. “Adelson is betting on the future of Nikki Haley.”

The Adelson money made up the bulk of A Great Day’s $400,000 haul between May and mid-June, boosting the fund’s total amount raised to $915,000.

Leatherman, by comparison, had to shell out more than $1 million to combat advertising from A Great Day and outside groups to, essentially, win his 10th term.

Haley’s former chief of staff and political adviser, Tim Pearson, who also oversees A Great Day, declined to comment on the nature of Haley’s contacts with Adelson or the Kochs.

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“We were pleased with the almost million dollars we were able to raise for Gov. Haley’s vision of a better South Carolina in a short period of time,” Pearson said. “While we won some races and lost others, as often happens in politics, there is no doubt that South Carolina is a different and better place than it was in February.”

A Great Day is a nonprofit similar to a political action committee or a Super PAC. It can raise unlimited amounts of money but is required to disclose its contributors and where the money is spent. Money can’t go directly to campaigns but can be spent advocating for certain candidates and their stances.

Money from the billionaire political activists David and Charles Koch’s conservative political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, also flooded the same state Senate races that A Great Day had targeted. The money went toward mailers, advertising, robocalls and volunteers.

“Zero surprise that the Koch brothers, who lined up against the same people as Nikki Haley, donated to A Great Day SC,” Huffmon said.

Other unsuccessful targets by Haley’s group in the June primary included Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Conway, and state Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet.

In total, A Great Day spent nearly $880,000 only to knock off Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill.