Attorneys representing a former South Carolina House Speaker will have another month to prepare before facing a committee that is looking into his campaign finances.
The House Ethics Committee voted unanimously Monday to delay testimony from former Speaker Bobby Harrell on whether he should have to repay his campaign more than $113,000 in attorneys fees. The committee in September gave Harrell 30 days to reimburse the money, unanimously ruling the Charleston lawmaker should not have used campaign funds to pay legal fees in an ethics case against him.
Harrell used previous campaign contributions to pay $113,500 in legal expenses as he first fought, then eventually pleaded guilty to six ethics-related charges last year. He was sentenced to probation and had to resign his seat. Harrell was not at the September meeting.
An attorney representing Harrell requested the continuance Monday, telling the committee Harrell had just retained him last week. “”Everything is fact-dependent. You want to know what the facts are and hear from both sides before you can make an informed decision as to how to proceed or to proceed at all,” Harrell’s attorney Mark Peper said. “And, unfortunately, I’m not so sure that I can give you all of the facts.”
Committee chairman Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, previously told reporters in the committee had issued a 2013 advisory opinion that legislators could not use campaign funds to pay attorney fees in cases where they were guilty of personal misconduct. Since Harrell pleaded guilty in a criminal court, Bingham said the precedent set in 2013 does not allow him to use money raised in the last election to pay the fine.
Bingham reiterated his position before the committee’s vote, saying Harrell’s previous attorney had been told the committee’s plans in June. “He offered up basically no effort, no response other than, ‘I told him I thought he could,'” the chairman said. Bingham eventually joined the rest of the committee in granting the continuance, however.
The House Ethics Committee is responsible for investigating ethics allegations against current and former House members. It is made up of five Republican and five Democratic members.