House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) is fighting off criticism this week after his hometown Charleston Post & Courier newspaper questioned why he had reimbursed himself nearly $300,000 from his campaign funds without a full explanation.
The newspaper said Harrell had reported receiving himself $325,000 from his campaign since 2008— often with only generic explanations, such as “legislative travel” and “staff Christmas.” However, the Associated Press later reported the amount as being $280,000 (there was no explanation of the discrepancy). The AP’s Seanna Adcox reported that Harrell had shown the news agency a list of receipts and other documents that justified the spending, but would not allow copies to be made.
Much of the costs were related to Harrell’s use of his private plane to fly to conferences and “politically-related travel,” according to his office. The AP report said the documentation the Speaker provided seemed to show that was the case.
It is against state law for a candidate to use campaign funds for their personal economic gain. However, Harrell’s office says the reimbursements were for legitimate expenses.
But several conservative groups now say Harrell should make the receipts public to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. “The Speaker really does need to… let other entities have a look at whether that documentation does indeed show that those were legitimate legislative trips,” South Carolina Policy Council President Ashley Landess told Charleston radio station WTMA Thursday, “And that every dime he paid himself was a straight reimbursement for that travel.”
After being told of Landess’s request, Harrell’s spokesman Greg Foster responded, “All campaign expenditures are available online and the receipts backing up these expenses have been thoroughly reviewed by the Associated Press and publicly reported on. It’s clear that any issues still being raised are purely about politics.”
South Carolina Radio Network has not seen the documentation, but has reviewed the original filing reports.
The watchdog group Common Cause filed a complaint over Harrell’s campaign spending with the House Ethics Committee. Its director John Crangle said he wanted the committee to turn the case over to the Attorney General’s Office to avoid a conflict of interest. However, a committee staffer refused to take the complaint, saying the committee’s rules do not allow it to begin an ethics investigation within 50 days of an election. (Harrell is in a contest against petition candidate John Steinberger).