Through Dec. 30, we are looking back at some of the stories that made headlines in 2014 – and seeing how things played out.
In October, former S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, pleaded guilty to six counts of using campaign money for personal expenses. As part of that deal, Harrell resigned from the House seat he had held for 21 years. He also abandoned his re-election bid and agreed not to seek political office for three years.
The guilty plea came more than a year after John Crangle, head of S.C. Common Cause, and Ashley Landess, president of the limited-government S.C. Policy Council think tank, brought allegations about the speaker to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.
In January, Wilson announced he would seek a State Grand Jury investigation of Harrell.
Harrell, who charged that fellow Republican Wilson’s investigation was politically motivated, moved to disqualify the attorney general from the case. In May, Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning ruled Wilson had no authority to investigate Harrell, saying ethics allegations against representatives first had to be vetted by the House Ethics Committee.
Wilson appealed to the state Supreme Court. In July, that court ruled Wilson could investigate lawmakers. But the court also said Manning should decide whether Wilson should be disqualified from the investigation for conflict of interest.
In response, Wilson handed off the case to Democratic 1st District Solicitor David Pascoe, a 20-year prosecutor, as an independent special prosecutor. According to a court order signed by Manning, Pascoe had complete authority to make all decisions going forward "as he deems appropriate."
Weeks later, Pascoe persuaded a Richland County to indict Harrell.
Former Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, was elected the new House speaker at an organizational session held earlier this month. As acting speaker, Lucas already had created a study committee to look at toughening the state’s ethics laws.
That committee has passed proposals to set more specific guidelines and limits on travel, lodging and phone costs, ban immediate family members from being paid for election work and bar cash payments for campaign expenses. Those proposals and others will be introduced when the Legislature convenes next month.
Meanwhile, after Harrell withdrew from the election, Democrat Mary Tinkler won his former House seat to represent the GOP-heavy district.
As part of his plea deal, Harrell also remains obligated to tell federal and state investigators about any illegal activities by others, including lawmakers, that he knows of. That investigation is ongoing.