Speaker Harrells diverse critics
South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell last week complained that “the liberal media” have ramped up attacks on conservative candidates as Election Day approaches. And he cited recent Post and Courier reports about his expenditure of campaign funds as evidence.
But on Tuesday, critics across a wide political spectrum came together in Columbia to call for the speaker to release the relevant records, as we had already urged him to do.
Their number included spokespersons from the S.C. Policy Council, a Columbia-based conservative-oriented think tank, and the state chapter of Common Cause, usually associated with the left.
Also appearing at a news conference at the Statehouse was a spokesman for RINO Hunt, a group associated with the tea party movement. Its goal is to ferret out “Republicans In Name Only,” and could hardly be described as “liberal.”
One leading tea party official questioned the speaker’s reimbursement calculations for travel to and from Columbia. It’s the kind of issue that can best be resolved with additional details.
The Charleston Republican reimbursed himself for campaign and legislative expenses from his campaign account, which is allowed by law. Since 2008, that sum totals about $280,000. He recently returned $23,000 to his campaign account, saying that the receipts for those expenses had been lost.
The speaker apparently considers the matter closed. The continuing interest from divergent groups says otherwise.
Rep. Harrell’s spokesman, Greg Foster, says that the speaker is within the law and maintains that the groups questioning the reimbursements have a history of political attacks against the speaker.
According to that scenario, the speaker has more than just his liberal critics. And certainly, on this issue, there should be general support for going beyond the requirement to simply maintain receipts.
The speaker, whose website describes him as “constantly looking for new ways to increase transparency and accountability” in government, could disarm his critics by making those receipts public. So far he has allowed a single Associated Press reporter to review the information. But he didn’t allow copies to be made.
At present, the House Ethics Committee can demand the receipts, but it can’t consider the matter under law within 50 days of an election.
State Attorney General Alan Wilson reiterated the central role of the House committee on Tuesday and said his office would not undertake an investigation at this point.
It is evident that the current requirements don’t provide for adequate accountability and transparency, and should be revised when the Legislature looks at ethics reform next session.
Urging the speaker to release those receipts in advance of a change in the ethics law isn’t a liberal or conservative issue. It’s a good government issue.
That’s why The Post and Courier continues to editorially urge disclosure. And editorially speaking, The Post and Courier doesn’t fit the contemporary notion of “liberal.”
Nor does Rep. Harrell’s long-time GOP colleague, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who told our reporter that the speaker should release the receipts when the issue was initially raised.
That was good advice then.
It still is.