COLUMBIA -- The state Senate Ethics Committee has reprimanded Sen. Jake Knotts for failure to report nearly $27,000 in campaign contributions and accepting about $25,000 from individuals and groups above the acceptable limits under the law, among other findings.
Knotts, a West Columbia Republican and former law enforcement officer, is best known throughout the state for alerting the media to Gov. Mark Sanford's disappearance in June 2009 and calling Nikki Haley, the GOP nominee for governor who is of Indian-American decent, a "raghead."
Knotts did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The public reprimand is believed to be the first against a state senator in at least 10 years.
The committee determined that Knotts did not spend any campaign cash on personal expenditures, nor did the panel find evidence that any money was missing. At issue was Knotts' disorganized and sloppy system for tracking campaign contributions.
The committee requires that Knotts immediately correct his campaign disclosure reports and reimburse individuals and groups for the $24,850 in contributions provided over the amount allowed by law. He also must develop a better overall system for handling contributions and is prohibited from withdrawing more than $100 in cash from his campaign accounts at any given time.
Sen. Wes Hayes, a Rock Hill Republican and chairman of the Ethics Committee, said Knotts' violations didn't constitute an offense for which the committee could issue a fine. As long as Knotts makes the changes ordered by the committee, the matter will be closed unless the attorney general finds reasons to pursue a criminal case.
Hayes said the matter was serious. In his 10 years as committee chairman, Hayes said he could not recall another instance when a senator was publicly reprimanded.
"I think the public has a right to know it and there is a law that says so," Hayes said.
The state Senate Ethics Committee found that Knotts:
-- Accepted contributions from 29 individuals, entities and organizations in excess of the $1,000 limits set by law in the 2008 primary election, totaling $23,850. He accepted another $1,000 in excess of the statutory limit during the 2008 general election cycle.
-- Failed to report on his campaign disclosure reports 40 contributions totaling nearly $27,000 made between March 2007 and January 2009.
-- Listed his wife as a joint account holder with right of survivorship on campaign accounts. Knotts said he did so in the event that he died and his wife needed to properly close the account.
-- Failed to report campaign loans and loan repayments, numerous contributions and expenditures multiple times, as well as to properly report how he spent money.
-- Did not properly record nearly $17,000 in interest earned on his contributions.