SC attorney general discovers $134,000 in unreported contributions, expenses

03/22/2013 1:02 PM

03/22/2013 8:53 PM

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson filed amended campaign disclosures Friday after an independent accountant found his campaign had failed to report 68 donations worth nearly $66,890.

The campaign also said it discovered unreported payments totaling $66,797 to 16 vendors – much of which went to a pair of firms that handled television production and consulting.

Wilson does not face penalties for failing to report the contributions and expenses since he self-reported the errors and refiled his campaign reports, the director of the S.C. Ethics Commission has said.

The unreported donations were discovered after Wilson said he had returned $7,000 in contributions tied to House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.

Half of the contributions came from Harrell’s campaign for Wilson’s inaugural ball. That $3,500 was listed on Harrell’s disclosure form but not on Wilson’s.

Wilson returned the $7,000, including another $3,500 contribution from a political-action committee tied to the speaker, after the first-term Republican attorney general referred ethics complaints against Harrell to the State Law Enforcement Division this year. Harrell has denied the allegations, which include using campaign money for personal purposes.

The newly reported contributions include a $1,750 donation to Wilson’s campaign from the Charleston law firm of Harrell’s brother, John David Harrell.

Harrell’s appointment of his brother to the S.C. Judicial Merit Commission, which screens candidates for judges, was among the conflict-of-interest complaints against the speaker submitted to Wilson by the S.C. Policy Council, a libertarian think tank.

Wilson sent the council’s complaints to SLED.

S.C. Policy Council President Ashley Landess said Friday that if Wilson thought he needed to return the earlier contributions tied to Bobby Harrell, he should return those tied to John Davis Harrell as well.

Wilson has no plans to return John David Harrell’s donation because he is not under investigation, campaign spokesman Richard Quinn said.

John David Harrell said, “I don’t see a conflict of interest.”

Wilson has tried to take the lead in ethics reform, including forming a public-integrity unit with other enforcement agencies to investigate allegations against elected officials.

When Bobby Harrell’s unreported contribution was discovered, Wilson’s campaign investigated and found other contributions to his inaugural gala also were not included in disclosure forms. The campaign then asked an accountant to examine the quarters before and after the event – a period that covered September 2010 to April 2011.

“General Wilson believes it’s important to lead by example,” campaign chairman Thad Westbrook, a Columbia attorney, said in a statement. “He could easily have asked the campaign to correct the handful of errors that were initially found and stopped with that. Instead, he decided to go beyond inaugural sponsors and conduct a more extensive review.”

Wilson previously had reported he had raised and spent about $600,000 in the general election to win the attorney general race. The new contributions and expenses add about 10 percent to those reported totals. The campaign amended three quarterly reports.

Most of the unreported donations – 53 of 68 – were given for Wilson’s inaugural gala. The other 15 contributions included nine that were made online. The contributions ranged for $5 to $3,500, the maximum allowed.

The campaign workers who failed to record the contributions “are no longer involved with the campaign’s disclosures,” said Westbrook, who added new safeguards are in place.

“When human beings are involved, mistakes are inevitable,” he said. “In campaign disclosures, the important point is to be fully accountable, correct errors as quickly as possible, and be completely open and honest with the public.”

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