COLUMBIA - South Carolina's top prosecutor needs to refund $200 to a lobbyist who donated to his 2010 campaign, the State Ethics Commission said Friday.
Commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood said she sent letters Thursday to Attorney General Alan Wilson and former state Rep. Joyce Hearn, who gave $150 to his campaign in November 2009 and $50 in March 2010. State law bars legislators and statewide officers from taking money from lobbyists, and Hearn was a registered lobbyist for the South Carolina Credit Union League both years.
The prohibition "goes both ways. A lobbyist can't give, and a candidate can't receive," Hazelwood said.
Her letter gives Wilson's campaign 10 days to fix the problem.
Wilson's political consultant, Richard Quinn, said Friday the campaign was unaware Hearn was a lobbyist then.
But Hazelwood said it doesn't matter when Hearn's lobbying job ended. Lobbyists can't make a donation at any time during a year they lobby the Legislature, even if the job lasts only a day, she said.
"The termination of the relationship does nothing," she said.
Hearn, a House member from 1975-1989, worked as a lobbyist for the credit union league from January through May of 2009 and 2010, corresponding with the January-to-June legislative session. She continued lobbying for the league through June 2013, according to her disclosures with the ethics commission.
Hearn did not immediately return a message from the AP. Her donations were first reported by the Charleston Free Times.
Last March, Wilson's campaign corrected his filings after a review by an independent accountant found $134,000 in previously unreported donations and expenses surrounding his 2010 win. His campaign chairman attributed the 68 donations and 16 payments to human error.
As attorney general, Wilson's job includes prosecuting criminal violations of ethics law.
Asked whether errors in Wilson's own campaign filings affect his ability to do that, John Crangle of Common Cause said it points to a needed change in the system. Crangle has long argued the attorney general's race should be publicly funded. Any attorney general taking private money from special interest groups is "fundamentally an invitation to corruption," Crangle said.
"It shows at a minimum that some campaign staffer fumbled the ball," he said. "It does cast a cloud."
Wilson's investigation into former GOP Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resulted in Ard resigning and pleading guilty in 2012 to misdemeanor ethics violations. That came nine months after Ard paid a $48,000 fine to the state Ethics Commission.
In January, Wilson announced he'd sent ethics allegations against House Speaker Bobby Harrell to the grand jury, a month after receiving a report from the State Law Enforcement Division. Harrell, R-Charleston, maintains he's done nothing wrong and said the announcement's timing, a day before the legislative session started, appeared to be aimed at hurting him politically.
Wilson, also a Republican, is seeking a second term this year. As of his January ethics filing, he had nearly $635,000 cash available. Democrat Parnell Diggs opened his campaign in January with $500, according to his initial filing with the ethics commission.