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Members of Murdaugh family donated over $110K in political contributions, data shows

The Island Packet logo The Island Packet 7/2/2021 Kacen Bayless, The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.)

Jul. 2—In the past 12 years, members of the Murdaugh family of Hampton, among the most powerful legal families in South Carolina, have contributed over $110,000 to political candidates across the state, according to campaign disclosures reported to the S.C. Ethics Commission.

Alex Murdaugh, along with his late wife, Maggie, his father, Randolph III, and brother Randolph IV, donated to candidates ranging from prominent political players such as Gov. Henry McMaster and 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone to local council members and sheriffs.

In addition, the family's law firm, Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick PA, has donated over $200,000 to political action committees since 2012, the ethics commission website shows.

Such political contributions, which candidates are required to report, are not uncommon in South Carolina — a state with a well-connected, sometimes intertwined legal community. But they are one indication of the prominent family's access to power: the people who make, interpret or enforce laws and policies in towns, counties and the state.

Among the candidates receiving contributions: Gov. Henry McMaster, $31,500 from 2008 to 2018; State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a criminal defense lawyer who sits on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, $2,000 in 2020; Rep. Todd Rutherford, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, which oversees preparation of the state budget, $1,000 in 2016; Former Rep. Bakari Sellers, $11,500 during his 2014 unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor; 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone, $2,500 in 2016.

John Crangle, government relations director for the SC Progressive Network, said Thursday that he worries about the ways powerful citizens use campaign contributions to try to "buy access" in state and local government.

Crangle, a well-known government watchdog, is the author of the book "Operation Lost Trust: And the Ethics Reform Movement" about vote-buying and political corruption in the S.C. Legislature.

The Murdaugh family

The June 7 double homicide of Paul Murdaugh and Maggie, his mother, has thrust the Murdaugh family into the national spotlight for a second time.

In 2019, after a boat crashed near Parris Island, killing a young woman, Paul Murdaugh was charged with driving the boat while drunk. His father and grandfather intervened at the hospital, refusing to allow police to administer blood-alcohol tests or question the boat passengers.

Paul Murdaugh wasn't handcuffed or taken to jail, even for fingerprinting. His mug shot was taken in a hallway with an iPhone while he was wearing street clothes. A judge later removed his bond restrictions, allowing him to travel.

Sen. Harpootlian, who received campaign contributions of $1,000 apiece in 2020 from Alex and Maggie Murdaugh, was Paul's lawyer.

Out in the community and on social media, the family faced criticism for the perception of special treatment. Their perceived influence on the boat crash investigation, and the criminal and civil cases that followed, drew national attention.

That attention and speculation returned last month when Paul and his mother were found shot to death outside their home in Colleton County. Alex Murdaugh called 911 to report he'd found their bodies. In 3 1/2 weeks, police have made no arrests.

The family is legendary in legal circles. For more than eight decades, three generations of Murdaughs held the position of state solicitor, the chief prosecutor for criminal cases in the five-county region of Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties. Meanwhile, the family law firm (PMPED) has won millions of dollars in civil lawsuits, largely involving fatal collisions, The State newspaper reported in 2019.

Nine days after the double homicide, two members of the Murdaugh family rebuked claims on national TV about their perceived status of power. Asked about the public perception of his family, Randolph Murdaugh IV, Paul's uncle, told Good Morning America's Eva Pilgrim that the Murdaughs are "just regular people."

Their campaign contributions, however, show the family has a stake in local and state politics.

The donations listed on the state ethics website show that together, Alex, Maggie, Randolph III and Randolph IV donated $119,890 to a slew of political candidates from 2008 to 2020, The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette found.

The newspapers found that Alex Murdaugh (under the names Richard, Richard Alexander, R. Alexander, Alexander and Alex Murdaugh) was by far the biggest political contributor, donating over $90,000 from 2008 to 2020. Maggie Murdaugh contributed $18,000 from 2008 to 2020.

Crangle, the political watchdog, noted two main reasons people contribute money to political candidates:

— They believe the candidate will be a good public servant and want them to win;

— They want to "buy influence" from the politician.

Either way, large amounts of money paid to a political candidate can give the donor some influence over the candidate, he said.

"It does have an impact on some politicians more so than others."

Follow our previous coverage here.


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