Mr. Steyer’s campaign spending in South Carolina’s black community is the result of a “formula” prescribed by Johnnie Cordero, the leader of the state Democratic Party’s black caucus, Mr. Cordero said during an interview in January.
In addition to following Mr. Cordero’s suggestions by holding events at African-American venues and hiring black vendors, Mr. Steyer’s campaign has placed influential black lawmakers on his campaign payroll as advisers — as has Mr. Sanders, the front-runner in the primary race.
One South Carolina lawmaker and Biden supporter, State Senator Richard A. Harpootlian, hinted in early February that Mr. Steyer received the endorsement of Representative Jerry N. Govan Jr., the leader of the South Carolina legislative black caucus, because he had put Mr. Govan on the campaign payroll.
The allegation drew a rebuke from members of the state legislature’s black caucus, who called it racist, as well a rebuttal from Mr. Govan, who accused Mr. Harpootlian of mudslinging. The Steyer campaign described Mr. Govan as a trusted adviser.
But Mr. Steyer’s approach has drawn rebukes from some other South Carolina Democrats.
“To me, the Steyer campaign is throwing around money in an unproductive and not OK manner,” Brady Quirk-Garvan, the former chairman of the Charleston Democratic Party, who had been a supporter of Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, said on Sunday. Mr. Quirk-Garvan added that Mr. Steyer’s payments to lawmakers “seem to me like a payoff.” His comments were first reported by The Post and Courier, a newspaper in Charleston.
Addressing reporters on Sunday night after his appearance in Yemassee, S.C., Mr. Steyer said: “We are paying people for actually going out and doing outreach. And that’s how grass roots work, and the idea that if in fact it’s black people, somehow it’s become corrupt, I don’t accept that.”
Mr. Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, have been welcomed in Columbia, where many residents view the wealthy California couple as potential benefactors. Ms. Taylor has temporarily moved to the city and has been holding small gatherings at her home.