‘Mid-December’ comes and goes
Back in early November, indicted former House Speaker Bobby Harrell returned to the State Capitol grounds in Columbia for a hearing by the House Ethics Committee into charges he used his campaign funds to pay $113,475 in attorney’s fees in his losing battle against the ethics charges that ruined – temporarily, at least – his political career.
At the time, Harrell had new attorney Mark Peper in tow. Peper owns the firm that employs Harrell’s son, Trey, who published reports allege will run for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Chip Linehouse (R-Charleston) in 2016.
Claiming he’d just been handed the very detailed case less than a week before, Peper asked for and was granted an extension unanimously even though committee chairman Kenny Bingham was firm in his admonition that Harrell and his team had more than adequate time to address the charges and take corrective action.
A date of mid-December was set for the hearing, with state law and existing ethics opinions on the issue (2013-2) clearly stipulating campaign funds may not be used for cases involving personal misconduct.
Harrell, and his hearing, never made the House calendar, meaning he won’t make the drive to Columbia – or, presumably, repay the $113,475 he allegedly owes and misspent – until session resumes in January. In September, Harrell was given 30 days to repay the fees.
Reached Monday at home, ethics committee chairman Rep. Kenny Bingham (R-Lexington) told The Nerve the hearing’s delay was unavoidable.
“We’ll have a meeting scheduled the first or the middle of January,” he said. “In the holidays it’s so difficult to get a quorum together.
“We’re working towards getting a resolution to this issue once and for all early in the session, the first couple of weeks of the session. We’re working hard to get it resolved.”
For government watchdogs such as John Crangle, executive director of Common Cause SC, Harrell’s delay tactics are sadly par for the course.
“How much is this costing in terms of time and resources?” Crangle said. “How much more of the resources of the State of South Carolina can Bobby Harrell consume?
“His attitude toward that debt has been defiant from the start, which was not supposed to have been his attitude toward the cooperation that was a condition of the plea agreement that kept him out of jail and suspended the most serious charges of criminal misconduct.
“It just doesn’t seem like anyone in the House is willing to fight this battle again.”
Reach Aiken at 803-254-4411 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken for the latest updates and @TheNerveSC.