While no one is suggesting that Gov. David Beasley take the bus, his frequent flying has radically redefined "official business."
Although the governor failed to list the purpose of many of the 72 flights he took during his first nine months in office, as required on the passenger manifests, he did state that numerous trips were made to address "Christian" events and organizations.
Beasley and his entourage took the state jet at $850 an hour to Norfolk to be on the 700 Club show, and twice to Washington, D.C., to appear at Christian Coalition functions.
Apparently, Beasley regards speaking to these groups on "welfare reform" part of his job. It seems that his Excellency is conveniently of the opinion that anything he does is "official business."
Nobody knows how much money it took to send nearly 40 people along with the governor to South Korea in September. They haven't added it up yet.
The Department of Commerce organized the trip to participate in the Southeast US-Korea Association meeting in Seoul. These trips have been going on for years with the ostensible purpose of recruiting industry. Optimism was last fueled by the Japanese plastics company Carroll Campbell landed in the late '80s.
The spokesperson for the Department of Commerce said it was only responsible for the four people who accompanied department head Bob Royall on the trip. Royall picked up the tab for his wife's flight.
As for information on the other participants in the delegation, the Commerce Department wouldn't comment.
"Ask the Governor's Office," the spokesperson suggested. But inquiries to the Governor's Office have gone unanswered.
Beasley didn't win any contracts, but he did win the golf tournament and gained great face with Korean capitalists.
State Treasurer Richard Eckstrom wrote to state Republican officials last month suggesting that the Party not welcome those he referred to as "Republicans of convenience."
Recent defections by eight Democratic legislators, two solicitors and the Adjutant General have Eckstrom worried that the GOP's conservative blood is being mongrelized by faux fundamentalists.
What Eckstrom is really saying is that now that Republicans are the majority party, thanks in part to recent converts David Beasley and Bob Peeler, the GOP can afford to become principled about whom it takes into the fold.
Eckstrom, who used the state jet this summer to attend a conference of state treasurers in Providence, R.I., hasn't explained why he used the jet to stay overnight in St. Simons, Ga., during the conference.
"We represent conservative principles and common sense mainstream values," Eckstrom advised party leaders. "We cannot ever allow opportunistic politicians to compromise those values and principles."
Sorry, Richard, that's already been done.
In 1992, the Legislative Audit Council pointed out that there was no justification for South Carolina having the largest fleet of airplanes in the southeast, one of the largest in the nation, and perhaps one of the best in the Third World.
In late October of this year, the state Budget and Control Board went along with a Department of Commerce proposal to trade five old aircraft for a shiny, new $2 million helicopter.
Beasley, a frequent flyer who enjoys an entourage, supported the trade for the six-passenger, twin-engine helicopter because most top executives are afraid to fly in single-engine aircraft.
In a recent editorial in the more gullible state newspaper, Beasley claimed credit for selling the aircraft without mentioning that they were actually traded for the expensive helicopter.
It may be that the golden parachutes these corporate high flyers wear don't function in engine flame-outs. It may also be that the governor sees a need to keep his bourgeois guests far above the madding crowd. The majority of the peasants on the ground are making about $200 a week, and their desperate expressions are easier to take at several thousand feet.
Five years ago, when Gov. Carroll Campbell's best friend, State Development Board Director Dick Greer, pled guilty to cocaine possession, they both hoped that would be the end to the Lost Trust investigation.
But ongoing appeals of representatives busted for selling their votes to Greer's cocaine buddy Ron Cobb continue to threaten Campbell's political career.
Revelations during the appeals of the convicted legislators point to a cover-up of the former governor's involvement in a capital gains tax roll-back that benefited his supporters. A handful of Campbell supporters benefited by millions of dollars from the bill that we now know was greased by bribes.
Former U.S. Attorney Bart Daniels is in the hot seat because he told Judge Falcon Hawkins that Greer should be sentenced to probation for his cocaine possession because of his help with the capital gains investigation.
This was an investigation that apparently never got beyond the box of capital gains-related documents that the FBI "found" in its Columbia office Oct. 11 this after denying that the documents existed for the past four years.
Just when you think that you couldn't possibly be shocked by further stories of DHEC's malfeasance, the state agency does something else that begs the question: Are these people that inept or are they corrupt?
This particular horror story deals with a citizens' group in Spartanburg fighting the largest garbage company in the world, Waste Management Inc.
Or so they thought.
In a move to limit its corporate responsibility for closure and clean up of dump sites, Waste Management of America Inc. liquidated its holdings (on paper) and formed a new corporation, Waste Management of South Carolina.
DHEC was not advised of the change, but rubber stamped it after the fact.
The renamed and rapidly growing dump was started in 1990. Located, ironically enough, on New Hope Road, west of Spartanburg, it covered 100 acres and brought in 200 trucks a day before the company sought expansion.
The dump, adjacent to a residential neighborhood, has generated complaints of stench, noise and traffic problems, as well as causing groundwater contamination.
When the dump applied to DHEC to double its size, Spartanburg attorney Gary Poliakoff volunteered to take up the fight against the proposal.
Poliakoff fought the expansion for a year before a DHEC hearing officer determined that there were too many "statutory violations in the permitting" and that the process had to be started over.
At the next DHEC board meeting, last fall, the board reversed its own hearing officer's decision and granted the expansion permit.
"The room was full of lobbyists," Poliakoff recalled. "The waste industry, textiles, they were all there. You couldn't tell the DHEC staff from the McNair firm." (McNair represents Waste Management.)
"We never even got to the evidenciary stage of the hearing before the board intervened and granted the permit [to expand the dump]."
The dump can now cover 270 acres, up to 150 feet high. "That's as tall as a 13-storey building," Poliakoff said. "They're building a mountain out there."
What makes Waste Management grow is not just corporate greed, smart lawyers and DHEC's corporate bias, but an unusual provision of South Carolina law that has created an especially lucrative brand of garbage.
"Special waste" is a category unique to South Carolina that ranks between municipal waste and hazardous waste. Sewer sludge and lead paint cannot be buried in a municipal dump, and in all other states must be shipped to the more expensive hazardous materials dump.
Smart marketing on the part of those who would sell South Carolina's last gasp of clean air and drop of pure water created this special waste category to make money. Nineteen counties in North Carolina are now dumping their municipal and "special" waste in Spartanburg, and saving a bundle.
Once the area of the dump was increased, the company had to apply for a permit to increase the amount of waste it could accept.
After four days of hearings in May, a DHEC administrative judge found that there was no justification other than maximizing corporate profit to double the tonnage rates.
In August, the DHEC board reversed its own judge and doubled the dump's capacity to 400 tons a day.
Waste Management bullied the Spartanburg County Council into accepting the dump's expansion by threatening to quadruple the county's disposal rates if it didn't go along with the plan. Since DHEC the county's last line of defense could be counted on to side with industry, the county buckled.
"It's not just infuriating," Poliakoff said, "it's disgusting."
The Ethics Act last year prohibited registered lobbyists from contributing to the campaign efforts of elected officials. This has amounted to a small hurdle for a number of Republicans running for office who mail fundraising letters to the registered lobbyist list with tiny print at the bottom that reads: "Invitations inadvertently delivered to registered lobbyists should be disregarded."
The thin veneer of their ethics is pierced when you look at who's mailing and who's receiving the invitations. The Republicans apparently don't realize that all lobbyists aren't total sell-outs and that some of them actually lobby for something they believe in and don't even get paid.
Tom Mullikin, for example, is running for the Camden Senate seat as a Republican. Mullikin is a lawyer who represents Laidlaw and other toxic waste handlers. He is apparently mailing his $150 minimum donation invitations to the entire lobbyist list, judging from the fact that a number of environmental lobbyists were invited to join Mullikin's "Conservative Campaign for the South Carolina Senate."
This month's sleazeball is the director of a state agency who stood up in front of his board to say that his staff had no problem with granting a permit to double a certain dump's capacity. Six days earlier, this sleazeball's staff had submitted a memo that evidenced "serious concern" about the expansion.
Be the first caller to correctly identify this sleazebag and win a free trial subscription to POINT.
Last month's sleazeball was DHEC.