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Big companies donated to Haley inauguration

Some of South Carolina's largest manufacturers and energy companies gave more than $250,000 for Gov. Nikki Haley's inaugural events, with Boeing Inc., Duke Energy, Progress Energy and SCANA Corp. among those donating $25,000 each.

In January, Haley promised to make details of the fundraising and spending for the privately funded events available. The records given to The Associated Press show at least $530,000 was spent on inaugural events, including a glitzy gala and a dress-down family fun night.

Haley had previously listed the names of donors in inaugural materials, but the documents detail how much they gave and how their donations were spent on events.

"We have released every dollar raised and spent on the inaugural, which while not required by law, is something the governor thinks the public has the right to see," Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said.

The largest donors said it was a chance to participate in a key South Carolina event as Haley became the state's first female governor. They all had donated at least $3,500 to Haley's gubernatorial campaign.

"It is a major moment in the state's history and we wanted to participate," said Progress Energy spokesman Mike Hughes.

Duke Energy spokesman Jason Walls said the inaugural was "an opportunity to showcase South Carolina and the new leadership in South Carolina."

Boeing won big economic development incentives in 2009 as the company decided to expand manufacturing operations in South Carolina. Haley has said she'll make keeping the facility union-free a priority - a position that's resulted in a lawsuit by the International Association of Machinists.

Meanwhile, MeadWestvaco Corp.; Altria, the nation's largest cigarette maker; and Michelin North America each gave $15,000.

BMW Manufacturing gave $10,000. The automaker's former spokesman, Bobby Hitt, won approval last month to run the state Commerce Department.

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina gave $25,000, the most among eight insurers who gave at least $5,000. BlueCross administers the state employee health insurance plan. Meanwhile, Select Health of South Carolina, which handles part of the state's Medicaid health coverage program, gave $10,000.

The large corporate donations raise concerns. For instance, there's the message sent by spending on an extravaganza at a decked-out Columbia arena, said John Crangle, state director for the government watchdog group Common Cause.

"The threshold question is whether or not it makes sense to have a half-million dollar inaugural ball when the state is in such terrible financial condition and they're cutting welfare recipients back and proposing to cut Medicaid," Crangle said.

And there's the appearance of companies wielding cash to gain influence.

"It's not a situation where the donors are necessarily bribing public officials with regard to a specific piece of legislation, but what they're getting to do is cultivate friendships or an atmosphere that they can take advantage of in the future," Crangle said. "At least they'll be able to get in the door."

Godfrey said tax money shouldn't be spent on inaugural parties "and so we raised private funds to put on events that celebrated our great state and that South Carolinians from every walk of life could be and were a part of."

Walls said Duke's donations weren't an effort to wield influence. "This is solely about celebrating the state," he said.

South Carolina's ethics laws don't address inaugural donations and spending, said Herb Hayden, executive director of the South Carolina Ethics Commission.

"You have no caps. You have no regulation. You have no disclosure," Hayden said. That leaves the donations and what happens after they are spent a matter of perception.

"If someone gives a large sum and then turns around and requests some action by the governor, there certainly could be an appearance issue," Hayden said.

Godfrey said: "As long as the people can see who inaugural donors are, we're comfortable with the process."