Reading Time: 2 minutes

Natural gas executive James Willard Kinzer of Kentucky is one of more than 100 small business owners listed online as supporting Curtis Bostic, the former Charleston County councilmember who appears to have advanced to a runoff against former Gov. Mark Sanford following Tuesday’s 16-way GOP primary in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.

But he’s much more than that.

Not only did Kinzer donate the legal maximum to Bostic’s underdog campaign, he pumped $30,000 into a pro-Bostic super PAC called the “Coastal Conservative Fund.” The group is likely named as such since the 1st Congressional District stretches along the Palmetto State’s coast.

Records filed with the Federal Election Commission show that Kinzer personally gave the super PAC $10,000 on February 13, the day after Quality Natural Gas, LLC, a Kinzer family owned company, contributed $20,000. The two donations account for the entirety of the money the super PAC has reported raising.

The Kinzer clan, furthermore, accounted for more than half of the money that Bostic raised from individuals ahead of Election Day, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of FEC records.

Six members of the family, including its elderly patriarch, each donated $7,500 to Bostic on February 11 — a combined total of $45,000. Bostic reported raising just shy of $90,000 ahead of Election Day, on top of the $150,000 he loaned his campaign.

The Kinzers’ contributions were earmarked not just for Tuesday’s election. Some of the money will go toward the anticipated April 2 primary runoff, in which Bostic is expected to face Sanford, who raised about $415,000 for the primary. Still more is designated for the May 7 general election, in which the runoff winner will face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert.

If Bostic, who earned 13 percent of the vote in the primary, fails to beat Sanford, who earned 37 percent, he will be required to refund the funds contributed for the general election.

The Kinzer-funded Coastal Conservative Fund spent about $12,000 on an advertisement touting Bostic as a “Christian conservative” who “sticks up for taxpayers,” records show. Bostic appears to have edged out conservative state Sen. Larry Grooms — like Bostic, he aligned himself with tea party activists — by less than one percentage point. A mandatory recount is scheduled for Friday.

Kinzer, who will turn 85 next month and could not immediately be reached for comment, is a noted philanthropist as well as an award-winning motorcycle hill-climber. At the age of 79, he started drag racing.

The natural gas industry, though, has been his domain for decades.

He got his start drilling in the natural gas business in the 1950s, and Kinzer family companies now operate more than 2,000 wells in Appalachia’s Big Sandy River Basin.

“Natural gas continues to be an abundant clean-burning natural resource that can lead to complete foreign energy independence,” Kinzer wrote in a 2011 article. “We need to continue to work on a pipeline infrastructure that can supply gas to all areas of the country and develop new technologies in liquefied natural gas and compressed natural gas.”

For his part, Bostic touts himself as being “pro-domestic energy,” on his campaign website, where he vows to push for the construction of “state-of-the-arts nuclear power plants” and expand “domestic production of oil and natural gas.”

Help support this work

Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you. 

Michael Beckel reported for the Center for Public Integrity from 2012 to 2017.