Templeton Harrell

Former South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell, left, is supporting Catherine Templeton in the GOP primary for governor. File/BradNettles/Joe Cranney.

COLUMBIA — Catherine Templeton, whose GOP gubernatorial bid has focused on cleaning up Statehouse corruption, is being supported by South Carolina's former House Speaker who left office under an ethics cloud.

Former speaker Bobby Harrell, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds for personal benefit, said in a radio interview on WTMA this week he is backing Templeton, a Mount Pleasant attorney and former two-time agency director, in the five-way GOP primary.

During his time in the Statehouse, Harrell said he was impressed with Templeton's work as the director of the labor and health agencies. He particularly appreciated that she did not request more money for the agencies' budgets and tried to eliminate regulatory rules.

"That's the kind of person that you want in that position," Harrell said. "Somebody who will watch the money, reduce it where she can and get rid of regulations that are stifling businesses in the state."

Harrell has long feuded with the network of former GOP consultant Richard Quinn. Incumbent Gov. Henry McMaster was one of Quinn's many powerful clients before the longtime GOP kingmaker was ensnared in the same corruption probe that led to Harrell's ouster.

Templeton's campaign declined to comment on Harrell's endorsement. But she has repeatedly played up McMaster's ties to Quinn as evidence of a corrupt "good ol' boy" system in Columbia.

“The people in the middle of this corruption probe are McMaster’s people," Templeton charged recently when Quinn was reportedly preparing to testify before the State Grand Jury.

Several of Harrell's family members have donated to Templeton's campaign. Harrell, a Charleston Republican, could not be reached for additional comment Thursday. 

Before the probe turned to Quinn, Harrell was forced to resign from office in 2014 after pleading guilty to six misdemeanor ethics violations of misusing his campaign account to fund flights on his single-engine plane.

Three other Republicans are in the race: Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill and Greenville businessman John Warren.

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Warren released his own ethics reform plan Thursday, which included increasing income disclosure requirements, ending no-bid contracts for agencies, canceling pensions for indicted legislators and forcing them to pay for special elections to replace them.

Laura Beth Kirsop, a spokeswoman for Warren's campaign, said "no one should be surprised" that Harrell has endorsed Templeton.

"Templeton and Bobby Harrell are two political insiders cut from the same cloth," Kirsop said, dinging Templeton for refusing to disclose details about her consulting firm.

A spokeswoman for McMaster's campaign declined to comment.

Harrell has also waded in to the congressional primary of U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Mount Pleasant, by backing his GOP challenger, state Rep. Katie Arrington of Summerville.

After three years of probation, Harrell is now eligible to run for office again himself but chose not to mount a comeback bid this year. He has returned to his insurance business in West Ashley.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina statehouse and congressional delegation. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.