By RICK BRUNDRETT
Campaign records raise questions about propriety of transactions
If Kris Crawford needs guidance these days from the Bible, he might want to ponder the proverb, “Physician, heal thyself.”
In 2012, the emergency room doctor and then-state House member was convicted on four misdemeanor counts of willfully failing to file state income-tax returns. He received no jail time and was ordered to pay $21,380 in fines and costs.
Despite his criminal conviction, the Florence County Republican kept his House seat and was easily re-elected last month to a fifth two-year term. But in a surprise announcement Tuesday, Crawford, a married father of four, said he was resigning immediately from office, citing the need to spend more time with his work and family.
His resignation was received by the House Clerk’s Office shortly after noon Tuesday – just hours after The Nerve left phone and written messages for him seeking comment on a number of findings by The Nerve, based on a review of his campaign records, annual income-disclosure reports and other public records.
Among the findings:
- Crawford paid a company registered with the state by his wife, Mary Rebecca Crawford, and his wife separately a total of $24,215 out of his campaign account in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections for various labeled campaign expenses under headings that included “campaign management,” “campaign supplies,” “fundraising” and “ethics work.” The office address for the company, called the Majeal Group LLC, was listed as the Crawfords’ home address when it was registered with the Secretary of State’s Office in May 2005. The company remains in good standing with the state office, online records show, though it has no online presence.
- Crawford in April 2005 registered a nonprofit organization, called the South Carolina Council for Competitive Reform Inc. with the Secretary of State’s Office. The organization is listed in good standing with the state office, though a spokeswoman with the Internal Revenue Service told The Nerve on Monday that it has no records that the group has a tax-exempt status. Its listed office address when registered was the Crawfords’ home address; it has no current website.
- Crawford has several registered companies under his name – Physician’s Preferred Monitoring LLC, Crawford Medical LLC and The Central American Store LLC – all of which remain in good standing with the state. He listed his ownership status of Physician’s Preferred Monitoring and Crawford Medical in his annual income-disclosure reports filed with the State Ethics Commission in 2013 and this year, though not in 2008, 2010 and 2012. The Central American Store, which had the Crawfords’ home address as its office address when registered, was not mentioned in any of the online income-disclosure reports and has no website.
- The Nerve reported last year that Crawford and Physician’s Preferred Monitoring, described then by him as a home health-monitoring company in which he was a partner, collectively received $321,613 in Medicaid payments from fiscal 2007 through 2012, though he didn’t specify those amounts in his income-disclosure reports. He told The Nerve then that he thought he had reported the amounts but would amend his reports if he hadn’t done so and was required to do it, though no amended listings were found in The Nerve’s latest review. Crawford last year proposed a bill, which didn’t move out of committee, that would have allowed South Carolina to accept Medicaid expansion funds under the federal health-care law – commonly referred to as “Obamacare” – for the state to operate an initial managed-care program.
Crawford, who was first elected to the House in 2006, didn’t respond to phone and written messages left for him by 9 a.m. Tuesday seeking comment on The Nerve’s findings. His resignation was received by the House Clerk’s Office at 12:10 p.m. Tuesday and was effective immediately, Clerk Charles Reid told The Nerve in a written response.
Contacted about 1:45 p.m. Tuesday after he had submitted his resignation, Crawford said he hadn’t checked the earlier messages. Although he willingly discussed his reasons for resigning, when asked to comment on The Nerve’s findings, he said he had other waiting calls, quickly hung up and didn’t return a follow-up call seeking a response.
‘Susceptible to Abuse’
Contacted Monday by The Nerve, John Crangle, director of the government watchdog organization Common Cause of South Carolina, said although paying a relative with campaign funds for campaign work isn’t specifically banned under state ethics laws, if there is no documentation detailing how that money was spent, “that is the type of transaction that is susceptible to abuse.”
“It can look like campaign money is being dumped into the hands of a family member for little or no work,” Crangle said. “It’s an issue that needs to be dealt with in a new ethics bill in this (legislative) session.”
State ethics law (Section 8-13-1348 of the S.C. Code of Laws) bans the use of campaign funds for personal expenses. Former longtime House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, resigned from office in October after pleading guilty to six misdemeanor counts under that section of the law, and was placed on three years’ probation. The charges against him stemmed from a complaint filed in February 2013 by the South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – with S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.
The Nerve’s review of Crawford’s online campaign reports show that he paid a total of $20,715 out of his campaign account to the Majeal Group – registered under his wife’s name but identified in the campaign reports only as “Majeal” with a Florence post office box number – in 30 payments from Jan. 10, 2008, through Oct. 4, 2010. The individual payments ranged from $200 to $3,750; the average payment was $691. Of the 30 payments, 21 were under the heading titled, “Campaign Management.”
In addition, from Jan. 16, 2008, through Nov. 15, 2012, Crawford made six campaign payments totaling $3,500 to his wife at the couple’s home address, mostly under the heading titled, “Campaign Work.”
Campaign payments were made to other individuals or businesses for campaign work during the period. No payments to Crawford’s wife or the Majeal Group were made during this year’s election cycle through October, records show. The Nerve could not locate a website for the Majeal Group.
As for the South Carolina Council for Competitive Reform Inc., The Nerve could not find any news articles online about the organization. It had a website at one time, though the last one The Nerve could locate through an online search was from January 2011.
According to a computer screenshot from that year, the organization described itself as a “collaboration of South Carolinians interested in bringing the appointments and elections of members of Boards, Commissions, Committees, Authorities and Judicial seats into the broader sphere of public discussion and scrutiny.”
The Nerve this week attempted to contact Josh Dixon, who listed himself on his LinkedIn account as the organization’s former director of education, but he did not respond to several written requests for an interview.
Other than incorporation papers, no other documentation about the organization was available from the Secretary of State’s Office. Agency spokeswoman Renee Daggerhart told The Nerve in a written response Monday that the organization would be required to file annual federal income-tax reports with the agency only if it “registered with us as a charitable organization.”
Citizens, Nonprofits Targeted by Crawford?
Ironically, Crawford in late October proposed a House rule that would have required anyone testifying before House committees on behalf of nonprofit organizations not registered with the State Ethics Commission – including grassroots groups that voice their opinions on legislative issues – to first submit signed statements revealing detailed information about their groups, including donor identities and their contributions – typically private information.
He also co-sponsored another proposed House rule that would have forced anyone testifying before House committees to first be sworn in under oath – and face possible felony charges if the testimony was determined by House members to be willfully “false, materially misleading, or materially incomplete.”
And in April, Crawford was the lead sponsor of a bill that would have given lawmakers the power to appoint special prosecutors in public corruption cases, which critics said would have allowed legislators to kick the state attorney general off Harrell’s criminal case. The S.C. Supreme Court in July ruled that Attorney General Wilson could continue its investigation of Harrell without first getting permission from the House Ethics Committee.
Critics contended that Crawford was trying to protect Harrell with the bill and silence watchdogs of the 124-member House with the proposed House rules.
The legislation quickly died amid outcry from the South Carolina Policy Council and other organizations. Crawford withdrew the proposed House rule after it was questioned at an Oct. 30 meeting by some members of a special House committee considering rules changes.
The Rules and Procedures Ad-Hoc Committee last week withdrew the proposed “oath” rule – the day after a Nerve story questioned its legality. On Tuesday, Crawford decided to drop out of the House altogether.
“My heart just really wasn’t in it,” he told The Nerve Tuesday afternoon.
Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.