Mystery has surrounded the eight blacked-out pages of the State Law Enforcement Division investigative report into former S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell over the past 18 months.
What did authorities find? Who was named? What were the allegations?
The mystery ended Wednesday, when The State newspaper was able to review those redacted pages. They show authorities laying out their case for potential allegations of misusing political office and violating campaign finance laws against 20 lawmakers and candidates.
No charges have been filed.
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Here is what’s included on the pages that SLED blacked out when the agency released the 42-page report in late 2014:
Harrell’s ties with a leadership committee backing his causes
▪ Columbia political operative India Null said she was hired by Harrell to run the Palmetto Leadership Council and consulted with the speaker on decisions. She also worked as a Harrell campaign fundraiser and hired a staffer from the speaker’s office to work as consultant to the council. (Leadership political-action committees are supposed to be independent from the candidates whose issues they support.)
▪ Harrell, a Charleston Republican who resigned from office after pleading guilty in 2014 to misusing campaign money, reimbursed the council for $605 in travel expenses. The council deposited eight $100 checks made out to the Harrell campaign, according to bank records. Harrell said he did not recall the reimbursement and was unaware of the deposit.
▪ Harrell’s assistant and campaign treasurer had authority over Leadership Council bank accounts, which the speaker said he did not know or recall. Harrell said he had authority over Leadership Council bank accounts.
▪ Harrell said he spoke with Null about Leadership Council issues, including raising money, attending events and supporting candidates for election.
▪ State Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, called the Leadership Council, “Bobby’s thing.” While Merrill was House majority leader, from 2004-2008, the Republican House Caucus produced mailers for candidates that were paid for by the Leadership Council. Merrill said he mentioned “Bobby” in emails to Null to seek reimbursement from the Leadership Council.
Palmetto Leadership Council’s ties to the House GOP Caucus
▪ The Leadership Council paid Merrill’s marketing firm, Geechie Communications, for campaign mailers sent on behalf of the House Republican Caucus. Merrill said he charged an extra 10 percent to 15 percent above the cost of the mailers.
▪ Merrill said he “felt” that his predecessor as House majority leader, Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, sent Republican caucus mailer business to Richard Quinn & Associates, run by Quinn “and/or his father.”
▪ The Leadership Council received invoices from Richard Quinn & Associates.
The SLED report said the following findings were “potentially in conflict” with state laws:
▪ Use of official position for financial gain
Merrill used his leadership position with the House Republican Caucus to direct political mailer business to his company, where he earned profits of 10 percent to 15 percent. Merrill said Quinn conducted “House GOP caucus business in the same manner” when he was House majority leader.
Contacted Wednesday by The State, Quinn said he did nothing improper. An attorney for Merrill said the investigation is “much ado about nothing.”
▪ Independent expenditures
The Palmetto Leadership Council, which was not supposed to coordinate with candidates, gave money to the House GOP Caucus, which by law is considered under control by candidates.
▪ Campaign contribution limits
A dozen lawmakers and candidates received the $1,000 maximum contribution allowed under state law from the Palmetto Leadership Council in the 2008 general election or 2010 primary election, the SLED report said. They also received mailers paid for by the council and produced by the GOP House Caucus, the report said. The combination of the cash and in-kind contributions would have exceeded the $1,000 contribution limit in state law.
▪ Campaign contribution limits from political parties
Seventeen lawmakers and candidates received the $5,000 maximum contribution allowed under state law from the House GOP Caucus in the 2008 general election or 2010 primary election, the SLED report said. They also received mailers paid for by the council and produced by the GOP House Caucus, the report said. The combination of the cash and in-kind contributions would have exceeded the $5,000 contribution limit in state law.
The current Republican state House members named in the report are: Derham Cole of Spartanburg; Shannon Erickson of Beaufort; Deborah Long of Lancaster; Phillip Lowe of Florence; Mike Sottile of Charleston; and Mark Willis of Greenville. Former state Rep. Don Bowen of Anderson, who lost a re-election bid in 2014 but now is seeking to regain his seat, also was named.
Cole, Long, Sottile, Willis and Bowen said Wednesday they have not been contacted by authorities regarding any potential violations of campaign contribution limits and did not think they did anything wrong. Efforts to reach Lowe and Erickson were unsuccessful.