House District 78

Democratic challenger questions contributions to incumbent in SC house race

abeam@thestate.comNovember 3, 2012 

A political action committee affiliated with Republican House Speaker Bobby Harrell has paid for television ads supporting incumbent state Rep. Joan Brady, one of six members of the House Ethics Committee that likely will investigate ethics complaints against Harrell in January.

That support represents a conflict of interest, Beth Bernstein, Brady’s Democratic opponent in the House District 78 race in Northeast Richland County, said Friday. Bernstein called on Brady to return $1,000 in contributions from the Palmetto Leadership Council and to ask the council to pull its television ads.

“As a member of the House Ethics Committee, Rep. Brady would no doubt be charged with investigating and being one of merely six votes that decides the fate of Speaker Harrell,” Bernstein said. She added council’s involvement in Brady’s campaign is “wrong ... inappropriate conduct (that) should not be legal.”

Attempts to reach Brady were unsuccessful.

A spokesman for Harrell said the Palmetto Leadership Council is “a conservative pro-business group that Speaker Harrell supports.” But, said Greg Foster, communications director for the speaker, “He does not run the organization.”

While Harrell does not run the council, it is closely associated with him. The home page of its website displays a picture of Harrell and a letter from him that says, in part, “More than ever we need elected officials who put service above self and public interest above politics.”

Several government watchdog groups have said they plan to ask the House Ethics Committee to investigate how Harrell has spent money that he has raised for his own campaigns. Harrell used some of that money to reimburse himself for expenses that were questioned in an article in The (Charleston) Post and Courier.

Luke Byars, Brady’s political consultant, noted Friday that no one has filed an ethics complaint against Harrell yet.

State law prohibits the filing of ethics complaints within 50 days of an election.

The Palmetto Leadership has been lavish in its support of GOP candidates. A review of contributions by The State newspaper found the council has contributed to more than 80 Republican House and Senate candidates, including all five Republicans on the House Ethics Committee.

Byars said there is nothing improper with those contributions.

“Republicans helping Republicans is not news in South Carolina. We are the majority party,” Byars said. “For them to have a press conference a couple of days before (the election) and impugn (Brady’s) character and impugn the character of the speaker of the House – I don’t think that’s prudent.”

Byars also criticized Bernstein for not complying with her own ethics proposals.

Announcing her plan to reform the state’s ethics laws earlier this month, Bernstein said, “I will be posting weekly contribution summaries on my website during the blackout period” – the period between the Oct. 10 deadline for candidates to disclose their campaign contributions and Tuesday’s election – “so voters know exactly who is funding my campaign.”

“Have you checked their website?” Byars asked Friday. “Are there any donations showing up? No. Amazingly, there was around $30,000 that showed up during the blackout period, which (Bernstein) used for negative television (ads) against her opponent, that we don’t know where it came from and voters won’t know where it came from until after the election.”

Bernstein’s campaign posted her most recent contributions on her website Friday afternoon.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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