COLUMBIA — In a rare show of unity from across the South Carolina political spectrum, a collection of state watchdog and political groups gathered at the Statehouse Tuesday to call on House Speaker Bobby Harrell to release receipts detailing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign reimbursements over the last four years.
“Why is it in South Carolina that it’s so hard to get to the truth when it involves politicians?” asked Harry Kibler of Greenville-based RINO Hunt (RINO stands for “Republican in Name Only”).
Several of the groups, which included the S.C. Policy Council and Common Cause of South Carolina, also called for an independent investigation of the reimbursements.
John Crangle, the executive director of Common Cause, called on Attorney General Alan Wilson to work with the S.C. Law Enforcement Division to request the impaneling of a state grand jury to look into the reimbursements.
Wilson’s office said Monday that the House Ethics Committee, comprised of six of Harrell’s fellow House members, is the appropriate body to handle an ethics complaint against the speaker.
“It is premature to comment on this matter at this time. State law designates the House Ethics Committee as the initial reviewing authority,” Mark Powell, Wilson’s spokesman, said in a statement.
Under state law, the committee cannot accept a complaint within 50 days of an election in which the subject of the complaint is seeking office. Harrell is seeking re-election on Nov. 6. Crangle has said he will file a complaint with the committee on Nov. 7, though he has asked the committee to turn over any investigation of Harrell to an independent authority.
Greg Foster, a spokesman for Harrell, said in a statement that the speaker is in full compliance with state ethics law.
Harrell has allowed the Associated Press to review receipts Harrell said accounted for all but $23,000 of the approximately $280,000 he reimbursed himself from his campaign account since summer 2008. Harrell returned the $23,000 to his campaign account, telling the AP that while he believes the expenses were legitimate, he doesn’t have the receipts required under state law to support them.
Foster wrote in his statement that the AP story demonstrates that Harrell is in compliance with the law.
Harrell did not allow the AP to make copies of the receipts.
Foster said the groups questioning the reimbursements Tuesday have a track record of political attacks on the speaker.
“It is clear that these political attacks are not about ethics laws, truth or facts,” he said in the statement. “These attacks are serious — and seriously misleading. In August, a Charleston press conference held by many of these same groups made other unfounded political attacks on Speaker Harrell because of his support of I-526. Two years ago, these same groups held a (Statehouse) press conference attacking the speaker for not supporting a number of conservative bills, not only had all those bills successfully passed the House, most were sponsored by Harrell himself. Different day, similar political attacks, still no factual basis.”
Read more in tomorrow’s Post and Courier. Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.