By Ashley Barker
Published July 24, 2014
New College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell has been busy emptying financial accounts from his political past, and 16 organizations have benefited so far, including three at CofC.
A day before resigning his lieutenant governor position on June 18, McConnell started cutting checks for tax-exempt organizations from his lieutenant governor campaign account, which had $260,239 in unused contributions. He emptied that account on June 24 and still has $157,871 from his days as a senator in another account, according to Cathy Hazelwood with the S.C. State Ethics Commission.
By law, McConnell has to distribute the funds — they can go to any 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization — but there is no set time frame as to when the money must be disbursed.
Glenn McConnell resigned as lieutenant governor on June 18 and became president of the College of Charleston on July 1. (Photo/Ashley Barker)
An organization affiliated with McConnell’s new employer received the largest donation on the list. The new college president gave $110,000 to the College of Charleston Foundation to go toward diversity scholarships, as well as $5,000 each to the College of Charleston Cougar Club and College of Charleston Alumni Association.
“The state government has not kept up with its assistance to higher education. Tuition and fees have escalated on students, and it’s become more expensive to go to college,” McConnell said. “We’re slowly creating a generation of debtors. For folks who don’t have the highest grades and come from poor backgrounds, it’s a real struggle for them to come to college.”
When the college’s board of trustees announced that McConnell was a finalist for president, groups of students, staff, faculty and community members questioned his commitment to bringing more diversity to campus. This money, he said, will help ease some of the concerns, which included his association with the debate over displaying the Confederate flag at the statehouse and re-enactments of Civil War battles. He also was criticized when a photo emerged of him posing at a Civil War-themed event that included black re-enactors portraying house servants.
The three organizations are not required to use the money for diversity scholarships, but McConnell has asked them to focus on helping students pay for their education.
“We want to enhance diversity on campus and give students from low socioeconomic areas a chance to come to college,” he said. “They’re generally respectful of donors’ wishes.”
A group of CofC students protested, signed petitions and held a silent sit-in when McConnell was hired. Some suggested that the board was pressured by state lawmakers to give McConnell the job and some said McConnell struck a private deal to make the transition from the legislature to CofC.
Board Chairman Greg Padgett denied the allegations, saying McConnell “possesses the vision and dedication that will lead the College of Charleston through its next era of progress and success in educating our students and serving our community.”
McConnell ultimately signed a contract worth $300,000 per year through June 30, 2019. The college will pay him $188,000, and the College of Charleston Foundation will provide a supplemental annual salary of $112,000.
The decision to give the foundation some of his excess campaign funds, though, was made long before he received the presidential nod, according to McConnell.
“There was no bargain with anyone, no commitment with anyone, no price paid or anything like that. It’s purely a donor’s gift to try to make life better for others,” he said.
McConnell said he did initially offer to take a cut in pay, but the board didn’t agree to the deal.
“The only thing that I said to them (the board) was whatever the college is going to pay me, deduct $50,000 from that and I’d match it with funds for diversity scholarships,” McConnell said. “That didn’t happen. It was impossible to do anything like that.”
McConnell said he didn’t know for sure why the board did not take him up on his offer.
“I think it probably has to do with rules on money. It’s complicated,” he said.
Padgett and representatives from the College of Charleston Foundation did not return messages seeking comment.
More money to donate
McConnell said he’s not sure yet when he will empty his Senate account, but it must all be done in the same quarter. McConnell will need to continue filing quarterly financial reports until the money has been distributed. The next reports are expected to be filed Oct. 10.
By law, he can donate it to any organization that is tax-exempt under federal tax codes. Churches, charities, college foundations, political parties and the state’s general fund are options, according to Hazelwood, the Ethics Commission spokeswoman.
“Over the years, I didn’t reimburse myself. That’s how I accumulated all of that money. I paid my expenses out of pocket,” McConnell said. “I ended up with all that surplus over the years and knew I’d eventually be in a position to use it to help people.”
Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.
Expenditures from Glenn McConnell’s lieutenant governor
contributions account, as of July 10
Source: S.C. State Ethics Commission