South Carolina’s Ethics Commission on Wednesday ordered the state’s lieutenant governor to repay $73,000 in excessive campaign contributions he collected after his loss in the 2010 governor’s race.
The Ethics Commission also fined Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster an additional $5,100 on top of the reimbursements. According to an order The Republican politician admitted to the committee he had “inadvertently” violated campaign contribution laws in the order. The commission agreed with McMaster and considered the violations unintentional, finding no evidence that the excess contributions were misspent.
The State newspaper first reported the order on Wednesday.
The alleged violations occurred when McMaster was running against then-State Rep. Nikki Haley for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010. McMaster lost in the primary that year and accumulated a large campaign debt while doing so. A complaint filed by Greenville businessman David Ellison in 2014 claimed McMaster took 51 over-the-limit contributions to help retire his campaign debt after he lost the primary.
Donors can give statewide candidates a maximum of $3,500 per election cycle. Ellison’s complaint argues McMaster had reached the limit with those donors during his run in the GOP primary. After then-candidates Nikki Haley and Gresham Barrett headed to a runoff in June 2010, they were allowed to credit the runoff as a new election cycle and raise additional funds from those same donors. But McMaster — who did not get enough votes to qualify for the runoff — was not eligible to do the same, the complaint argued.
McMaster’s attorney Butch Bowers agreed that the former state attorney general did violate the law, but he argued McMaster did not realize he was in the wrong. At the time of the 2014 complaint, McMaster’s campaign argued Ellison was backing a rival GOP candidate in the lieutenant governor’s race.
The lieutenant governor is allowed to reopen his 2010 campaign account again to seek new contributions to pay back his old donors, but he cannot use the same donors who backed his original run.