COLUMBIA — A government think tank is raising questions about the way House Speaker Bobby Harrell several years ago sought approval from the state to begin operating his drug-repackaging company.
The S.C. Policy Council’s president says newly released emails dating to 2006 raise an ethical question of whether House Speaker Bobby Harrell sought or received special treatment from the state as he sought approval for his pharmaceutical business. Harrell says he has done nothing wrong and there was no conflict of interest.
Among the issues, the group said, are newly released emails and correspondence that raise ethics concerns about the use of the speaker’s office letterhead for a private business matter, and concern from a former state pharmacy board member that Harrell was seeking special treatment.
Harrell denies asking for or receiving special treatment.
Ashley Landess, president of the limited- government-supporting S.C. Policy Council, released the correspondence to reporters Tuesday after raising the concerns during testimony before the S.C. Commission on Ethics Reform. The panel appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley is working to recommend state ethics-law reforms to the Legislature.
Landess said the public deserves to know whether there was a conflict of interest on Harrell’s part, and whether the speaker received special treatment. “This is the kind of thing that needs a lot of eyes on it, not just ours,” she said.
Harrell, a Charleston Republican who also owns an insurance agency, said Landess’ charges are baseless and that she has had a vendetta against him for years because he did not reappoint her to the State Lottery Commission in 2009.
Landess said Harrell’s claim is absurd and an “utterly ridiculous, laughable excuse to divert attention.”
The correspondence released Tuesday dates to 2006, when Harrell sought and received approval from the State Board of Pharmacy and a state agency to begin operating his company — Palmetto State Pharmaceuticals — that sells pharmaceuticals to doctors, who in turn directly provide the medicines to their patients.
“I’m a small-business owner and a part-time legislator, and just like any other small-business owner, I talk to the agencies involved where the business is concerned,” Harrell said Tuesday. “But I made it clear to them I didn’t want to be treated any differently than anybody was treated.”
Harrell said he received no special treatment from the pharmacy board or the agency above it, the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. He said the regulatory agency “told us the proper way to run the company from the agency’s perspective,” and the matter was resolved.
The correspondence includes a letter sent to the pharmacy board on official speaker’s office letterhead.
That letter from May 2, 2006, states: “We would appreciate your urgent attention to this request” and is signed “Bobby Harrell.”
Harrell said he didn’t sign the letter, but it was sent on letterhead he paid for.
“I’m sure that what happened was I told somebody on my staff, send a note with the application asking them to please deal with it as quickly as possible or something like that,” he said.
Also in the correspondence from 2006, former pharmacy board member Bobby Bradham noted Harrell’s involvement and raised concerns with fellow board members about providing approval to the company.