Huntsman's S.C. Finance Team Draws Scrutiny

Huntsman's S.C. Finance Team Draws Scrutiny

By Scott Conroy - August 26, 2011

As Jon Huntsman tries to carve out a niche as the lone Republican moderate in a field crowded with arch-conservatives, his newly unveiled finance team in South Carolina has drawn notice from state Democrats -- who are insinuating that the former Utah governor sounds more like one of them than a GOP presidential candidate in the age of the Tea Party.

One name that jumped out of the newly minted lineup of financial backers in the first-in-the-South primary state is John Rainey, a former head of the South Carolina Board of Economic Advisers and a two-time George W. Bush "pioneer," who bundled at least $100,000 for the Republican candidate in 2000 and 2004.

Rainey has called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding work that Gov. Nikki Haley did for a consulting firm and a Columbia hospital, and he recently shared with a reporter his blistering denunciation of the Republican first-term governor, who is seen by many as a rising star in the Republican Party.

“I believe she is the most corrupt person to occupy the governor’s mansion since Reconstruction,” Rainey told The Nation in June. “The Democrats got Alvin Greene; we got Nikki Haley. Because nobody bothered to check these guys out.”

Haley’s endorsement is one of the most coveted early-state prizes among the Republican presidential contenders, and White House hopefuls typically seek meetings and photo-ops with her when stumping in the Palmetto State.

South Carolina Democratic consultant Tyler Jones has raised questions about the presence of Rainey on Huntsman’s team and also noted that five of its members have donated to Democrats in the past, most notably Anita Zucker, a Charleston-based CEO and philanthropist, who in 2009 contributed $1,000 to current Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

"This is why liberals in South Carolina love Jon Huntsman,” Jones said. “He hates Republicans just as much as we do."

Though it is not unusual for prominent businesspeople to contribute to politicians from both parties, the Huntsman finance team members’ support of Democrats is notable in a state as solidly Republican as South Carolina.

Still, according to the website, over the last two election cycles Zucker and her late husband, Jerry, gave to Republicans more than 10 times the amount they donated to Democrats. The other members of Huntsman’s South Carolina team have also contributed extensively to GOP candidates.

The Huntsman campaign has elected to forgo competing in the Iowa caucuses and instead focus heavily on winning the New Hampshire primary. South Carolina also remains an integral part of that strategy, and aides hope that the former ambassador to China’s solidly pro-life record and a divided Republican field will enable him to pull off an upset in the state that has correctly picked the GOP nominee in every presidential election since 1980.

“Gov. Huntsman has put together a finance team with broad support from conservative Republicans, and we’re proud to have them on board,” said Huntsman’s South Carolina state director, Joel Sawyer. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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