COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former House Majority Leader Rick Quinn is the fourth South Carolina legislator charged as part of an investigation into potential Statehouse corruption.
The state grand jury indicted Quinn on two counts of misconduct in office, prosecutor David Pascoe announced Tuesday. One carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, while the other is punishable by one year. The 51-year-old Lexington Republican is accused of using campaign donations for personal profit.
Quinn, first elected to the House in 1988, is the son of veteran Republican strategist Richard Quinn, who owns marketing and political consulting firms. Quinn Jr., also a campaign consultant, owns a direct-mail business. The Quinns have repeatedly said they keep their firms separate, but the indictments allege Rep. Quinn has an economic interest in all of them.
Rick Quinn accused Pascoe, a Democrat who’s run unsuccessfully for attorney general, of unfairly targeting him and his family out of political revenge. Pascoe declined to say anything beyond the announcement.
“I have conducted myself in an honorable manner, and I look forward to clearing my family’s good name,” Quinn said in a release. “I have done nothing wrong.”
Quinn’s father has not been charged. But the millions of dollars the Quinn firms have collected and spent on clients’ behalf have become a central part of an investigation that began with the 2014 prosecution of longtime state House speaker Bobby Harrell, who pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor campaign-spending violations.
According to the indictments, Rick Quinn accepted nearly $4.6 million from lobbyists through the firms and failed to report the income on campaign finance filings. They accuse him of acting as a lobbyist while in office and attempting to influence votes on issues benefiting clients.
The Quinn client roster is broad. Clients that have provided payment records under subpoena include the South Carolina Ports Authority, the University of South Carolina, Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and SCANA, the state’s largest utility.
The indictments accuse Quinn of sending his and his father’s firms more than $270,000 in business from the House Republican Caucus while he was majority leader from 1999 to 2004. He’s also accused of soliciting business from other legislators.
Quinn is also accused of essentially paying himself with donations by using his and his father’s firms for his own campaign mailings. Quinn has said he can get the work done cheaper that way and there’s nothing wrong with doing business with a trusted family member. He’s also said he was told it was legal for his firm to do work for the GOP caucus.
Many of the accusations against Quinn are similar to those against former House Majority Leader Jim Merrill, who held the leadership position from 2004 to 2008. Merrill has also adamantly denied doing anything illegal. His attorneys have pointed to opinions issued by the House Ethics Committee and Attorney General Alan Wilson saying it’s not illegal for a legislative caucus to hire and pay a majority leader’s business.
It was Wilson, a Quinn client, who initially handed the Harrell case to Pascoe, citing a conflict of interest. He tried unsuccessfully last year to fire him from the investigation. The state Supreme Court sided with Pascoe.
Within hours of the indictment, House Speaker Jay Lucas suspended Quinn from office, as required by state law. He becomes the third Republican legislator unable to perform legislative duties until either an acquittal or conviction.
A bond hearing for Quinn has not been scheduled.
The last lawmaker indicted two months ago is a longtime Quinn client. GOP Sen. John Courson of Columbia, first elected in 1984, is accused of pocketing more than $130,000 over six years by essentially funneling campaign donations through Richard Quinn’s firm. Courson maintains the charges are false.
Merrill was charged in December with illegally profiting from his position. The Charleston Republican has his own political consulting firm.
Merrill’s 30-count indictment marked the first charges since Harrell resigned in 2014.