COLUMBIA — A councilwoman in South Carolina’s capital county skirted ethics laws by failing to disclose thousands of dollars in contributions and expenses across several election campaigns in 2016, the state’s top political watchdog agency charged in documents released Tuesday.
Richland County Councilwoman Dalhi Myers said she simply could not keep up with her paperwork amid an unusual 2016 cycle that included a special election and two runoffs.
But that didn’t prevent the charges from the State Ethics Commission, which allege her violations spanned eight months and included more than $16,000 in undisclosed contributions and expenses.
Among those expenses — roughly $775 spent at restaurants, a $1,000 subscription to a law service, a $252 fireworks purchase and a $53 tab at a wine store.
Myers, an attorney who practices corporate law, denied doing anything improper.
She insisted she couldn’t submit her paperwork as required amid a scramble in Richland County to replace a councilman who was removed from office after he pleaded guilty for failing to file income tax returns.
To win her full-time seat in 2016, Myers won a special election, a primary and two runoffs, plus the general election in which she ran unopposed.
“I didn’t know how to report it," she said about her first political run for the Lower Richland district seat, which covers Eastover, Gadsden and Hopkins. "The rules required things that are physically impossible to do.”
Ethics laws require candidates file timely reports documenting their campaign finances with strict guidelines mandating the money is spent solely on campaign matters.
The Ethics Commission 14-page summary does not charge Myers with misspending money. Ethics Commission Director Meghan Walker said her agency doesn’t comment on pending cases and declined to elaborate.
Each of the 47 counts Myers faces carries a maximum penalty of a $2,000 fine. Myers said she intends to defend herself before a three-member commission panel at a hearing scheduled for Thursday, but she plans to request a continuance.
The ethics charges facing Myers surfaced Tuesday, a week after she called into question the conduct of several of her colleagues on the council. Among her allegations: a letter from a Columbia exotic dancer alleging members of council had accepted sexual favors in exchange for votes.
The council is embroiled in several other ongoing disputes, including a damning state audit into a special sales tax program and a pending lawsuit over last year’s firing of the county administrator.
Tuesday’s ethics charges brought another twist. They accuse Myers of failing to file reports from April 2016 and December 2016 and failing to keep required backup documentation for some expenses.
Those include a $1,052 purchase of legal software Myers said she used to read articles and research demographics.
“I didn’t use it after the election ended,” she said.
She charged $650 in campaign money in expenses labeled as “right of setoff.” Myers said those were charges related to her closing of a campaign bank account.
There was also the $53 she spent at Bottle’s King Wine on the Fourth of July. Myers said she purchased sparkling water and handed it out while driving her district on the holiday. She also spent $252 on fireworks, which she said she used at a campaign victory party.
When ethics officials questioned her about her disclosures, Myers said she visited their offices and turned over all of her records.
“I don’t have anything to hide,” she said. “I’ve been working with them on this for four years, trying to figure out what happened.”