February 29, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Throwback Thursday: Unanswered questions about Hardee

Former S.C. Department of Transportation commissioner John Hardee (son-in-law of state Sen. Hugh Leatherman) has been in the news lately related to allegations in a federal case that he received payments from an unidentified businessman in exchange for DOT contract awards – not to mention his arrest on a prostitution charge the day after he was sentenced to probation and house arrest after pleading guilty to a federal charge of attempted evidence tampering.

Hardee lost his seat on the DOT Commission last year following public pressure over unrelated questions of conflicts of interest, which were addressed earlier by The Nerve. After his federal plea last week, the S.C. Attorney General’s Office asked the State Law Enforcement Division to “conclude” a “preliminary inquiry” of Hardee, though no details were revealed in the request letter.

In 2015, The Nerve revealed Hardee’s ties to a company that received a 12-year DOT contract for highway business-logo signs statewide. Last year, The Nerve revealed that Hardee was a paid consultant with a lobbying trade group called the Outdoor Advertising Association of South Carolina (OAASC). This group has received thousands of dollars annually from public agencies to produce public service announcement billboards and signs. However, the OAASC has used significant portions of that revenue for consulting fees to Hardee – and for lobbying expenses and campaign donations to state lawmakers and political groups.

Shortly after the publication of this story, Gov. Henry McMaster appointed someone else to Hardee’s seat on the DOT Commission.

Controversial DOT commissioner paid by trade group for ‘consulting’ work with public agencies

A state transportation commissioner with ties to an advertising company that has a lucrative Department of Transportation contract also is a paid consultant with a lobbying trade group that receives thousands of dollars annually from other public agencies.

Public and private entities eligible for public service announcements (PSAs) have paid the Outdoor Advertising Association of South Carolina (OAASC), which represents large and smaller outdoor advertising companies, for PSA billboards and signs statewide, records show.

But a large chunk of that revenue also has been used by the nonprofit organization to cover consulting fees paid to longtime DOT commissioner John Hardee, as well as for lobbying expenses and campaign donations to state lawmakers and political groups, according to the association’s federal income-tax filings and state campaign records.

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