SC group says House speaker should step aside

ashain@thestate.comFebruary 21, 2013 

— Bobby Harrell should step aside as speaker of the S.C. House of Representatives, a political watchdog group said Thursday.

But the group delayed voting on whether state Attorney General Alan Wilson, R-Lexington, should recuse himself from the probe of the powerful Charleston Republican. Harrell’s office said the speaker has no plans to relinquish his leadership role. Harrell has denied any wrongdoing.

The board of the S.C. chapter of Common Cause voted unanimously that Harrell should not remain as speaker while authorities examine complaints that he violated S.C. ethics rules by reimbursing himself $280,000 from his campaign account, appointing his brother to a commission that nominates judicial candidates and using his position to help his pharmaceutical business.

Wilson referred the allegations against Harrell to SLED last week after receiving them from the libertarian S.C. Policy Council think tank.

The Common Cause board delayed voting on whether Wilson, a first-term Republican, should recuse himself because he accepted a $3,500 donation from Harrell’s campaign for the attorney general’s 2011 inaugural gala. Wilson also received another $3,500 from a political action committee tied to Harrell during his 2010 campaign.

Wilson returned the $7,000 in Harrell-affiliated contributions this week.

The contributions have the appearance of conflict, said John Crangle, S.C. director of Common Cause. But Common Cause wants to wait until Wilson can sort out questions about donations to his gala.

Wilson’s campaign is preparing an amended campaign disclosure report to account for 10 to 15 missing contributions to his gala, said Columbia attorney Thad Westbrook, the attorney general’s 2010 campaign chairman. Harrell listed his contribution to Wilson’s gala as a campaign expense, but the $3,500 was not on Wilson’s campaign forms filed with the S.C. Ethics Commission.

Westbrook said the failure to include a group of checks for the gala was an oversight. He did not have a total amount that was omitted. Wilson accepts responsibility for the contributions not being disclosed, his spokesman Mark Powell said.

The attorney general has spearheaded ethics-reform efforts, including forming a Public Integrity Unit that includes SLED and the state Ethics Commission.

Powell said Wilson demonstrated his commitment to ethics reform by working quickly to resolve the gala-contribution issue when it was brought to his attention this week and speaking with the media. “Officials who advocate for better enforcement of ethics laws and higher standards of integrity should practice what they preach.”

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