COLUMBIA — The state’s top police agency has been asked to investigate whether House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston used his office or campaign funds for personal gain.
State Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office Thursday asked State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel to assign an agent to examine ethics accusations leveled in a complaint from S.C. Policy Council President Ashley Landess.
In a statement, Harrell, a Republican, called the complaint “a baseless attack that is driven by personal and political vendetta.”
“What little ‘facts’ I have seen this political group put forward have been disproven and the rest appears to be the product of an over-active imagination. The real reason why this political group did not file anything at the appropriate place, the House Ethics Committee, is because it would prevent them from holding any more press conferences. And as shown by their lack of fact and substance, this political group’s goal is to conduct a smear campaign against me in the media.”
State law bars individuals and groups who file complaints with the House Ethics Committee from saying whether a complaint has been filed.
Harrell has said Landess has harbored a vendetta against him since he did not reappoint her to the State Lottery Commission in 2009.
Landess is executive director of the S.C. Policy Council, a limited-government-supporting think tank. She said she presented the allegations to Wilson instead of the House Ethics Committee because her group did not feel the committee could adequately and independently investigate Harrell.
Landess said that’s because the House’s staff answers to Harrell, and the House speaker presides over the chamber.
“There was no process by which (the conflicts) could be resolved because this was unique,” she said of the allegations.
The committee typically handles ethics complaints against current and former House members.
Landess’ allegations are:
Harrell may have used his office for his own financial benefit and that of his family business, citing S.C. Code 8-13-700. Reporting by The Post and Courier last week showed that a group of state and pharmacy group officials expressed concerns spanning several years that Harrell used his political power as he sought to help his drug repackaging company.
Harrell seems to have broken the law by using campaign funds for personal purposes, citing S.C. Code 8-13-1348. The allegation is a reference to Harrell’s practice of reimbursing himself for flights on his private plane. His office has said the flights were related to his official duties. The Post and Courier first reported on the reimbursements, and Harrell has not allowed the newspaper to review required receipts associated with the flights and other campaign-account spending.
Harrell’s appointment of his brother to the state’s Judicial Merit Selection Commission seems to be illegal under S.C. Code 8-13-750.
Harrell violated S.C. Code 8-13-1302 by failing to maintain certain required records associated with reimbursements from his campaign account. State law requires candidates to maintain receipts for reimbursements for a period of four years. Harrell has returned $23,000 to his campaign account, saying he lost the associated receipts in an office move.
Harrell did not adequately itemize reimbursements from his campaign account to himself.
SLED spokesman Tom Berry confirmed receipt of the request from Wilson’s office, and said in a statement that “We are researching the request and will take appropriate action.”
Landess said she has confidence that SLED will take the complaint seriously and conduct a thorough investigation.
Other powerful politicians in South Carolina have faced SLED inquiries, including former Gov. Mark Sanford, whose travel records were reviewed following his admission of an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina. Reggie Lloyd, the SLED chief at the time, cleared his boss, saying a review of selected trips yielded no basis for making a case.
Sanford later went on to pay more than $70,000 in ethics fines to resolve charges by the State Ethics Commission.
Through the State Grand Jury, Wilson’s office and SLED investigated former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, which resulted in a March 2012 indictment and Ard’s resignation.
State Treasurer Curtis Loftis last year was accused of a “pay to play” scandal involving the state’s retirement fund, and he was investigated by SLED. Wilson’s office decided that no legal action against Loftis was warranted after the SLED investigation.