The Buzz

Sunday Buzz: No more free lunches?

thebuzz@ thestate.comMay 24, 2014 Updated 15 hours ago

House Speaker Bobby Harrell

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com

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— The Buzz wants to thank House Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Lucas for the shout-out during last week’s budget debate.

The House’s second-in-command mentioned the daily Buzz’s regular “Who’s schmoozing the General Assembly?” feature when pitching an amendment that would end many of the free meals that companies, colleges, state agencies and advocacy groups feed lawmakers during each session. (His measure would not have banned sponsored meals for House and Senate committees.)

Lucas even read a definition of “schmoozing.” (“To talk with someone in a friendly way often in order to get some advantage for yourself,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.)

“It’s a practice I’d rather we stop,” the Darlington Republican told The Buzz. “It’s a perception issue. People may get bad impressions.”

Lucas, however, pulled his amendment, which he said he plans to introduce again next year.

In the meantime, lawmakers can enjoy lunch with the S.C. chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects on Wednesday and breakfast from the S.C. Office of the State Treasurer on Thursday.

PLC goes MIA

The Palmetto Leadership Council, the political-action group with ties to House Speaker Bobby Harrell, has not filed a campaign disclosure report for the first time in six years. The council has not filed an April report that covers the first three months of 2014, according to state records.

“They don’t have to file anything,” S.C. Ethics Commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood said. Political groups could stop filing in October 2010, after a federal court struck down some key state campaign laws.

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But most political committees, including the Palmetto Leadership Council, continued filing, Hazelwood said. Efforts to reach council director India Pickelsimer were unsuccessful.

The group’s website, which once included a message from Harrell, R-Charleston, along with his photo, went down in early 2013 – just before an investigation began into ethics complaints against the speaker. The council had raised $1.8 million and had $65,500 on hand at the end of 2013, according to its last report.

A peril in inviting Harrell?

Who says the governor’s race is the only 2010 re-match already drawing barbs. Democrat Joe McCulloch called for state Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, to punt Harrell as one of the hosts of a fundraiser on Tuesday.

The Columbia attorney said Harrell’s fundraising plug gave “the appearance of a quid-pro-quo” after Finlay backed bills allowing lawmakers to appoint special prosecutors to handle investigations of their colleagues. Harrell is fighting to have the state attorney general taken off his ethics case.

“I call on Rep. Finlay to do the right thing and show the people of our district that he works for them, not Bobby Harrell,” McCulloch said.

Finlay, who beat McCulloch by 308 votes two years ago, said he has been among the strongest backers of a ethics reform bill in the General Assembly, even offering his own proposals to clarify laws.

He said Harrell has backed a number of fundraisers for Republicans lawmakers, adding too many people have treated the accusations against the speaker as convictions.

“I’m happy he’s chosen to support me,” Finlay said.

Moore is better for C of C

Former Sen. Thomas Moore said the College of Charleston hired him this month to help push a bill in the Senate that would make the school the state’s third full-fledged research university. The hire seemed to help. The bill, already approved in the House, was fast-tracked in the state Senate last week by a 22-15 vote.

Moore, an Aiken Democrat and former gubernatorial nominee who left office in 2007 to take a job with a national payday-lending group, said the school was trying to get the bill passed before the session ends, in two weeks, because of a potential donation. Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, who pushed to speed the bill, said on the Senate floor that an “eight-figure” contribution for a computer science doctoral program is awaiting the college’s new status.

The Florence Republican did not reveal the donor, though there is plenty of speculation because of the role of Leatherman, known as “Senator Boeing.” The aircraft maker has a plant in North Charleston and an interest in helping S.C. colleges.

Also, it probably didn’t hurt the bill that a certain former influential legislator, now presiding over the Senate, is about to become president of the College of Charleston. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, has said he would like to see the college become a research institution after he takes over in July.

Buzz Bites

•  While Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, discussed a bill that would require fishermen to release any great white shark that they catch, Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler had some fun. The Cherokee Republican hummed the “Jaws” theme into a microphone, casting a suspenseful tone from the 1975 blockbuster across the Senate floor.

•  Peeler took to the floor last week to explain his bitter comments about missing a Clemson University function because of lengthy Senate budget debates this month. He said he just wanted an hour-long break to visit his orange-and-purple friends. “I detonated,” Peeler said. “I got mad at (Finance Committee chairman Leatherman) and, unfortunately, you all got hit by the shrapnel. ... The senator and I have a strange and wonderful relationship. He’s strange, and I’m wonderful.” Then, the pair shook hands.

• The driver’s side door of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s Chevrolet HHR needs some repairs after it was struck by a DC Metro bus, according to a Washington, D.C., television report. No one was injured in the accident involving the Columbia Democrat four blocks from the White House.

Staff writer Cassie Cope contributed.

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