February 14, 2016

Harrell says he is being targeted to weaken Charleston influence in Statehouse

As he waits for a judge to rule on a possible ethics investigation against him, South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell went on the offensive Monday.

SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston)

SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston)

The powerful Republican told his hometown Charleston station WTMA on Monday that he believes the investigation is politically motivated by those who want him out of the Speaker’s position. He declined when host Tara Servatius asked him to name names, saying he would answer her questions once the “dust settles, hopefully by the end of the summer.”

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson turned over evidence of a State Law Enforcement Division investigation to the State Grand Jury in January. Wilson had asked SLED to review Harrell’s campaign finances following a complaint by several groups led by the libertarian thinktank South Carolina Policy Council. Harrell has repeatedly insisted that he’s done nothing wrong. His attorneys say any ethics investigation should be handled by the House Ethics Committee, not a grand jury. Wilson has said the Ethics Committee would have a conflict of interest due to Harrell’s influence in the House.

Harrell told Servatius that he may have been “targeted” in order to weaken Charleston’s influence in the Statehouse. “We used to have the President of the Senate (Glenn McConnell) from Charleston, the Speaker of the House from Charleston, and (Governor Sanford) was from down here,” he said. “We had a lot of folks in powerful positions from down here.” Current governor Nikki Haley is from Lexington, while Senate President John Courson is from Columbia.

: Harrell defends himself on WTMA (8:23)

Harrell hinted that the Attorney General’s successful prosecution of former Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard (a Florence County native) on corruption charges was an attempt to force an unwilling McConnell to replace him in the largely-ceremonial position. South Carolina’s constitution requires the Senate President pro tempore to become lieutenant governor should the office become vacant.

“By removing Ken Ard, folks around the state were able to relieve Charleston of having the President of the Senate,” he told WTMA. “I think folks are coming after the Speaker of the House now. Because I haven’t done anything.”

“When you go down the list of things that they’ve tried to charge me with, there’s nothing there,” he said. “They can’t come up with specifics, because there aren’t any.”

The original SC Policy Council complaint accused Harrell of improperly reimbursing himself $325,000 in campaign funds to pay for trips on his personal plane while conducting state business. Harrell (who is a pilot) said the reimbursements were less than it would have cost to charter a plane. But the complaint states that the Speaker did not include any receipts to show the actual costs of the flights. It is against state law for a candidate to use campaign funds for their personal economic gain.

During Monday’s interview, Harrell said an Associated Press reporter had been given access to invoices and receipts and seemed to find no discrepancies. However, that reporter noted she was not allowed to make copies to examine at a later date. The complaint also accuses Harrell of using his position to get favorable treatment for a pharmacy he owns.

The Policy Council maintains that Wilson is acting appropriately on their complaint. President Ashley Landess implied that they had discovered possible criminal actions by Harrell. “We always believed this was a matter for the Attorney General. And, certainly, we would never have spent the time and energy that we did on this if we simply thought we were dealing with technical ethics violations.” She would not elaborate on those potential criminal acts.

Harrell on Monday again called on the Attorney General’s office to release the SLED report into his campaign. But a spokesman for the AG’s Office has previously said the report cannot be made public until the grand jury finishes its review.

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