House Speaker Harrell uses campaign funds to pay Charleston attorneys

S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

COLUMBIA - S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell has paid his Charleston attorneys a total of $80,000 from his campaign funds, campaign finance records show.

Harrell, R-Charleston, has seen his fight with Attorney General Alan Wilson spill in and out of court in recent months, including arguments in front of the state Supreme Court relating to whether Wilson could continue his ethics-related investigation into the speaker.

Harrell paid legal fees of $37,000 and $43,000 to attorneys Bart Daniel and Gedney Howe, respectively, records show. Howe's name was misspelled on the report.

Other attorneys, including Robert Stepp, who argued the case in front of the Supreme Court, have also litigated the case. Fees for Stepp were not included on campaign finance reports.

Harrell did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday.

The use of campaign funds for non-campaign purposes is at the source of much controversy for Harrell and other Palmetto state politicians. Under state law, elected officials can use those dollars for any purpose related to their official duties.

There is some precedent for using campaign dollars for legal fees. When former Gov. Mark Sanford sought to use taxpayer dollars to pay legal fees during an impeachment effort, those requests were denied. He tapped campaign funds for his attorneys' fees, according to media reports.

In 2012, the Post and Courier scrutinized $325,000 in campaign spending for Harrell, including the large bulk of those dollars that went toward reimbursement for flights on Harrell's private plane. Allegations of whether those funds and others were properly spent are believed to be part of a state grand jury probe into Harrell's conduct.

Harrell has denied the charges and said all reimbursements were appropriate. He has said Wilson is pursuing him for political gain. Whether Wilson can continue on the case is expected to be decided by Circuit Judge Casey Manning in the near future.

Harrell, up for re-election in November, did not have a GOP primary challenger. He raised $40,035 last quarter and has $46,771 to spend. Democrat Mary Tinkler has raised $5,056 and has $4,343 to spend in her bid to unseat Harrell.

Harrell has raised a total of $221,827 this election cycle and spent a total of $95,516 last quarter, records show. Tinkler did not report raising any money before the quarter ending June 30 and has spent about $920 so far.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.