S.C. attorney general did not report some campaign contributions

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s campaign did not report some contributions for Wilson’s 2011 inaugural gala. Buy this photo

COLUMBIA — S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s campaign did not report some contributions for Wilson’s 2011 inaugural gala, including a $3,500 donation from House Speaker Bobby Harrell, Wilson’s former campaign chairman said Wednesday.

Thad Westbrook, an attorney for Columbia law firm Nelson Mullins and the chairman of Wilson’s 2010 campaign, said the issue wasn’t discovered until this week, and an amended campaign disclosure form will be filed with the State Ethics Commission.

Westbrook said the contributions, which he thinks number between 10 and 15, were not reported due to a clerical error.

Westbrook said he didn’t yet know the total value of the unreported contributions but said none of them exceeded $3,500, the maximum contribution allowed per election under state law.

Wilson on Tuesday announced he was returning the Jan. 6, 2011, contribution from Harrell and another 2010 $3,500 donation from the Palmetto Leadership Council, a committee affiliated with Harrell.

The move came after the Republican attorney general last week referred an ethics complaint against Harrell to the State Law Enforcement Division.

Wilson explained in a statement Tuesday that he was returning the contributions from Harrell and the PLC “in an abundance of caution to avoid even the slightest appearance or impression that this office could be compromised in any way.”

Wilson will be in a position to pursue further investigation or prosecution of Harrell if SLED finds evidence to pursue.

Wilson asked the law enforcement agency last week to assign an agent to conduct an initial inquiry into criminal allegations against Harrell.

Among other things, the House speaker has been accused of using his campaign account and office for personal gain by the leader of the S.C. Policy Council.

Harrell listed the $3,500 contribution to Wilson on a campaign disclosure form, describing it as “sponsorship for inaugural gala” to “Alan Wilson for Attorney General.” Wilson’s campaign filings did not list the contribution.

Attorney General’s Office spokesman Mark Powell said the discovery of the unreported campaign contributions does not change Wilson’s position that he is unconflicted in a potential Harrell investigation.

John Crangle, executive director of state government watchdog group S.C. Common Cause, on Tuesday called on Wilson to recuse himself for accepting a potentially illegal campaign contribution, the $3,500 donation from Harrell.

State law bars contributions from one candidate’s campaign coffers to another candidate’s account. And Ethics Commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood said this week a candidate shouldn’t use his or her campaign funds for a donation to an event such as an inaugural gala 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 has disputed that assessment.

Neither Hazelwood nor Herb Hayden, executive director of the Ethics Commission, could be reached for comment Wednesday evening on the unreported Wilson campaign contributions.

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