COLUMBIA — State Attorney General Alan Wilson says he is returning thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from House Speaker Bobby Harrell and a group tied to him.

The move comes after an attorney for the State Ethics Commission said one of the donations would be improper for any elected official to make.

Harrell made a $3,500 contribution dated January 6, 2011 from his campaign fund for Wilson’s 2011 inaugural party.

State Ethics Commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood said a candidate shouldn’t use their campaign funds for such a donation because campaign expenditures “have to bear a fairly direct relationship to a candidate’s re-election or to the office they’re holding.”

Harrell’s office disputes Hazelwood’s assessment, saying the contribution was proper.

The (Columbia) Free-Times first reported on the donation.

Either way, Wilson said in a statement today that the contribution and another $3,500 donation from the Harrell-tied Palmetto Leadership Council will be returned.

Wilson last week referred a complaint against Harrell alleging he used his office and campaign account for personal gain to the State Law Enforcement Division.

Here is Wilson’s full statement: “The office of Attorney General, as well as many offices in law enforcement — including solicitors and sheriffs — is an elected position. Candidates for those positions receive thousands of campaign contributions every election cycle. Elected officials have a duty to uphold the law fairly, regardless how it might impact their many previous campaign contributors. As attorney general, I regard that duty as a sacred responsibility. As to past contributions my campaign has received from the Palmetto Leadership Council and/or Bobby Harrell personally, the Attorney General’s Office is in no way conflicted in our responsibility to uphold the law. However, appearance does matter. Therefore, I have instructed my campaign to refund both contributions. I am doing this in an abundance of caution to avoid even the slightest appearance or impression that this office could be compromised in any way.”

Read more in upcoming editions of The Post and Courier. Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.