The State Ethics Commission on Wednesday refused a request from Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster that it dismiss a complaint filed against him, setting up a hearing next month.
The commission voted unanimously to continue with its investigation into how McMaster’s campaign used roughly $72,000 in contributions during an unsuccessful run for governor five years earlier. McMaster later ran for and won the 2014 lieutenant governor’s race and is not accused of breaking the law during that race.
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 last year claims 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 argues.
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. Bowers instead urged the commission to drop the complaint and issue a new advisory opinion clarifying the law.
However, The State newspaper reports the commission agreed with their staff attorney that such a move would be unprecedented. A hearing in the case is set for October 21. Bowers said the lieutenant governor would try to reach a settlement with the commission before that date.