If Midlands residents know Rep. Jim Merrill, they know him as the S.C. director of President-elect Donald Trump’s S.C. campaign.
But a Richland County grand jury put the Berkeley County Republican in the news again Wednesday, charging him with misconduct in office and violating state ethics law.
Merrill is accused of illegally using his office to land payments of at least $1.3 million, either directly or through his business, Geechie Communications. Merrill has owned Geechie, a public relations firm, since 1994.
Merrill, 49, lives on Daniel Island and was elected to the House in 2000. He won re-election in November without facing opposition.
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He also helped Donald Trump clinch a GOP primary victory in South Carolina.
In August, Merrill said: “The appeal is pretty clear – people are tired of politics as usual and want somebody who’s going to tell it to them straight.”
At the time, Merrill defended Trump’s actions during the campaign, including giving out the cellphone number of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca. “In each and every instance, other people have attacked Mr. Trump first,” Merrill said. “He’s not a withering violet. He’s going to hit you right back in the nose if you come at him.”
When S.C. officials recently were speculated to candidates for Cabinet posts in Trump’s administration, Merrill did not comment when asked if he had been approached with a job.
Now, Merrill is accused of accepting money to influence government decisions and to sponsor legislation that benefited private companies and groups.
Merrill is a member of the powerful S.C. House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the first draft of the state’s budget. He also chairs the House subcommittee that decides higher education spending. However, he was suspended from the House Wednesday by Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington.
Merrill graduated from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in 1989 and a master’s degree in 1992.
His political experience includes being press secretary for the late U.S. Rep. Floyd Spence, R-Lexington, and political director of the S.C. Republican Party from 1992-98.
Merrill led the S.C. House GOP Caucus from 2004-08.
He also expressed interest in becoming House speaker after former Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, pleaded guilty to using campaign money for private expenses and resigned from office.