SUMMERVILLE — House Speaker Bobby Harrell says he'll never be able to recover receipts that will show how he spent $23,000 from his campaign account.

Harrell said the paper trail was lost in an office move and can't be found.

Barring an impossible detailing of the expenditures, he said he opted to cover the amount in question.

“If I can't locate it, then I need to do the right thing and put the money in, so that's what I did,” Harrell said Thursday following a Dorchester County candidates' forum at Beech Hill Elementary School.

Meanwhile, adding his voice to the call for an independent investigation of the reimbursements was John Steinberger, Harrell's petition candidate opponent in next month's House District 114 election.

He also was at the forum and suggested everyone from the state attorney general to a grand jury be considered to “see if he complied.”

Details of Harrell's reimbursement practices were published by The Post and Courier last month in a report indicating the West Ashley Republican had reimbursed himself about $280,000 from his campaign account since the summer of 2008. Many of the reimbursements were for travel, including flights Harrell made while piloting his own aircraft.

The story also pointed out what some see as a weakness in state law covering campaign receipt requirements, prompting several watchdog groups to demand Harrell publicly release all of his reimbursement records.

Under state law, Harrell does not have to publicly release those records but must maintain receipts for the past four years.

His office has repeatedly said the speaker is in compliance with state law.

Critics, however, say it is impossible to confirm that all of Harrell's reimbursements are legitimate without disclosure to back that up.

After the newspaper report, Harrell allowed The Associated Press to review receipts that he said accounted for all but just under $23,000 of the roughly $280,000 he reimbursed himself from campaign funds. He would not allow the receipts to be copied.

Harrell returned the $23,000 to his campaign account, telling a House ethics panel in a letter that while he believes the expenses were legitimate, he doesn't have the receipts to support them.

On Thursday, Harrell indicated he had no plans to share the receipts again, saying the AP is affiliated with about every news outlet in the state, and that his sit-down with the news agency would suffice.

“The way that I have conducted my business over the last few years is to absolutely make sure that I do things the right and proper way,” he said. “And I will continue to do that.”

Harrell also said his reimbursement of travel and other costs was a normal pattern of “reimbursed credit card expenses.”

Earlier this week, various watchdog and political groups, both liberal and conservative, called on the speaker to release the hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign reimbursement receipts he does have, saying it should be done for the sake of transparency.

The other groups that called on Harrell to release receipts this week include the limited-government supporting S.C. Policy Council, Common Cause of South Carolina, the tea-party leaning RINO Hunt (RINO stands for “Republican In Name Only”), among others.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.

Editor's note: Earlier published versions of this story needed clarification. House Speaker Bobby Harrell spoke with The Post and Courier earlier this week about questions concerning his campaign reimbursement habits, as well as appearing on WSC-94.3 on Oct. 2.