Legislative Power Trip
When people give money to support a candidate’s campaign, they’re typically not imagining their candidate using it to defend themselves against serious ethical charges. And yet, under the prevailing opinion in the South Carolina House of Representatives, they can do just that unless – and only unless – the politician is found guilty.
At stake as a DOT commissioner is control of the policies and direction of a massive state agency with nearly 5,000 employees and a $1.6 billion budget. When you're at the helm of an agency that annually doles out millions of dollars in contracts and can approve or deny projects that can make or break communities and businesses, there’s no question you have power.
As hundreds of bills slogged their way through the General Assembly earlier this year, one narrowly crafted piece of legislation was quietly put on the fast track and nearly passed – without any public input.
In a Sept. 1 letter to ex-S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, House Ethics Committee Chairman Kenny Bingham informed the arguably once-most-powerful lawmaker that paying attorney fees with campaign funds last year during his ethics investigation was a legal no-no.
The S.C. Legislature started fiscal 2016 with nearly $30 million in extra general funds – for its own use, records show.
While the restructuring of state government under a 2014 law supposedly will make it more accountable and efficient, taxpayers keep getting stuck with big bills with the reshuffling.
A nearly $1.4 billion settlement this year over alleged investor fraud involving the national credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s allowed South Carolina to use its $21.5 million share of the proceeds for consumer protection and education programs.
When Hugh Leatherman was elected in June 2014 as the Senate president pro tempore – making him leader of the 46-member chamber – he got more than a nice new title.
He acquired even more power.
A payment by ex-House Speaker Bobby Harrell, after he pleaded guilty in October to misspending campaign funds, from his campaign account to the state probation agency will not be credited toward his court-ordered restitution, the special prosecutor overseeing the case told The Nerve on Friday.
S.C. lawmakers for years have bypassed the normal budget process by quietly slipping in earmarks for thousands – and sometimes millions – of tax dollars for their favorite organizations.
The head of South Carolina’s probation agency says he met with the State Law Enforcement Division's assistant chief to discuss issues raised in last week’s Nerve story on former House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s plea deal.
Eight days after pleading guilty to misspending $93,958 from his campaign account, ex-S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell paid $3,517 from the account to the state probation department, campaign records show – money which the agency says was credited toward his court-ordered restitution.
As an estimated 1,500 people attended a rally Saturday on the State House grounds, organized to demand that the Confederate battle flag be removed from the front of the capitol, six lawmakers were meeting secretly in two buildings on the grounds.
Buried near the bottom of Act 114 of 2007 is one sentence that strips the governor of the authority to appoint the Department of Transportation secretary and gives that power to the already legislatively-controlled DOT Commission – effective Wednesday of next week.
On the S.C. General Assembly’s website, Sen. Larry Grooms lists his occupation only as “Businessman.”
When ex-S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell pleaded guilty in October to six counts of using campaign funds for personal expenses, his sentence was relatively light: three years' probation.
Most folks probably think of the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank as just that – a bank that finances major highway and bridge projects.
When it comes to Florence County, the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank apparently likes to take a more “hands-on” approach.
Mike Wooten, the S.C. Department of Transportation Commission’s vice-chairman, freely admits his Myrtle Beach firm routinely has worked with DOT.
Rep. Derham Cole had high praise for Woodrow “Woody” Willard after he and other state legislators who make up the 4th Congressional District delegation elected Willard to the S.C Department of Transportation Commission.
On the evening of Feb. 18, the Outdoor Advertising Association of South Carolina and South Carolina Logos Inc. hosted a reception at Lamar Advertising Co.’s Columbia office on Atlas Road for S.C. Department of Transportation commissioners and their guests, DOT records show.
Last fall, S.C. House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister co-sponsored a proposed House rule that would have allowed felony charges against citizens who gave “materially misleading” or “materially incomplete” testimony before House panels.
A sign company with ties to Sen. Hugh Leatherman's son-in-law has a lucarative state contract.
In his latest campaign-disclosure report submitted on April 6, Sen. Luke Rankin listed just two expenditures for next year’s election cycle: a $135 framing expense and a $1,500 contribution to the Art Museum of Myrtle Beach.
These days, the S.C. House Republican and Democratic caucuses enjoy the use of rent-free office space in a taxpayer-funded House building on the State House grounds.
Questions surround last year's appointment of Sen. Hugh Leatherman's son-in-law to the S.C. Department of Transportation Commission.
As of the end of December, 12 sitting S.C. House members had paid $100 fines imposed by the House Ethics Committee after they took office for late filings of campaign or income-disclosure reports, committee records show.
Once again, the 170-member General Assembly can’t seem to tighten its own financial belt.
A judge has rejected claims by freshman Rep. Greg Duckworth, R-Horry, that an Horry County couple defamed him in online letters to the editor during his failed attempt in 2012 for a House seat.
From 2008 through last year, the S.C. House and Senate Republican and Democratic caucuses collectively spent nearly $9.5 million from their operating expense accounts, The Nerve found in a review of the groups’ campaign reports.
S.C. Reps. Murrell Smith and Leon Stavrinakis had more than a passing interest in co-sponsoring a House Ways and Means Committee proposal to spend $50 million on a new children’s hospital at the Medical University of South Carolina.
The S.C. House meets today to begin debating a nearly $24.5 billion proposed state budget for next fiscal year – plus an attached $497 million bond proposal that House budget writers quickly approved without giving the public any chance to comment on the total debt package.
The leader of a national gun-rights organization says he has serious concerns about S.C. ethics bills dealing with election-year messaging by issue-advocacy groups like his.
Anyone who “wilfully” files a “groundless” ethics complaint against a South Carolina judge could face a maximum one-year prison sentence or a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted of the criminal misdemeanor charge, under a state House bill now in the Senate.
From 2007 through 2013, a medical supply company in which S.C. Rep. Murrell Smith is an owner received a total of more than $2.3 million in mainly Medicaid and state health insurance plan payments, according to his annual income-disclosure reports.
So far this legislative session, Rep. Kit Spires has filed seven bills, five of which are pharmacy-related.
Of the 22 judicial seats that the Legislature is scheduled to fill Wednesday, nine of them – including a seat on the state's second-highest court – are for unopposed incumbent judges nominated by a legislatively controlled screening committee without any public hearings, records show.
S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas has asked the state Supreme Court to reject a petition by a Lexington County woman seeking to stop Wednesday’s scheduled election of an incumbent circuit judge and have the state judicial screening committee declared unconstitutional.
On two dozen occasions since 2013, S.C. Sen. Billy O’Dell spent campaign funds on dues to two swank private clubs – the Palmetto Club and Capital City Club – located within walking distance of the State House, his campaign reports show.
A Lexington County woman wants the S.C. Supreme Court to declare the state’s judicial screening committee unconstitutional and put an upcoming judicial election in the General Assembly on hold.
S.C. lawmakers – at least those who live close to the State House – are getting a pay raise this year, though they probably won’t admit it publicly.
At last month’s organizational meeting of the state House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee, Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee and the committee chairman, declared, after a failed attempt to remove him as the chairman, that “there will not be retribution.”
For the second time in a little more than a year, the General Assembly this spring will decide who will be South Carolina’s top judge.
In the 2008 and 2012 elections, S.C. Sen. Thomas Alexander faced little or no formal opposition.
A bill that would add just 12 words to existing state law could put thousands of dollars in the pockets of South Carolina’s dentists and oral surgeons.
During a Nov. 5 judicial screening hearing, Greenville County Circuit Judge Edward “Ned” Miller testified that state Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, is a “lawyer that appears before me on a regular basis,” according to a just-released transcript of the hearing.
If you ask state Rep. Kit Spires, he’ll tell you his primary focus as a lawmaker is not to push pharmacy legislation.
The 124-member S.C. House and its staff can thank Rep. Alan Clemmons for building their wardrobes every year – courtesy of his campaign donors.
Some S.C. lawmakers apparently view themselves these days as foreign policy advisors and economic development prospectors with the country of Israel – and didn't see any ethical problems with collectively spending thousands in campaign funds to visit the Holy Land this month.
For 28 years, Denny Neilson served in the S.C. House, losing her seat in 2012 after her old legislative district was redrawn following the 2010 U.S. Census.
If Kris Crawford needs guidance these days from the Bible, he might want to ponder the proverb, “Physician, heal thyself.”
In a surprise annoucement today, S.C. Rep. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, said he is resigning from the House, telling The Nerve this afternoon, “Everybody who knows me, for good or bad, knows I do things full speed.”
Newly installed House Speaker Jay Lucas is expected today to fill seats on standing committees, though leadership positions on several key panels likely will remain the same barring any opposition, The Nerve has learned.
A special S.C. House committee that in late October recommended a rule requiring any citizen appearing before a House panel to testify under oath – and face a possible felony charge depending upon the testimony – dropped the proposal by Tuesday after a Nerve story questioned the legality of the rule.
“If we want people to come up here and tell us how to spend the state’s coffers that we take at the barrel of guns … they should come and tell us the truth.”
So said Rep. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, before a special S.C. House panel, known as the Rules and Procedures Ad-Hoc Committee, on Oct. 30 voted to recommend a new House rule sponsored by Crawford and two other lawmakers that would require anyone testifying before a standing or special House committee or subcommittee to be sworn in before their testimony.
When questioned by a State Law Enforcement Division agent last year, then-House Speaker Bobby Harrell defended reimbursing himself $3,874 from his campaign account for using his private plane to fly a high school baseball coach’s wife and the siblings of two players to a high school baseball tournament in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in 2009.
As the S.C. House returns next month to debate a proposed rule that critics say would discourage citizen testimony before legislative committees, an incoming freshman representative is pursuing defamation lawsuits against two supporters of his opponent in the 2012 race.
When it comes to policing itself for ethical violations, the 170-member General Assembly hasn’t shown much interest in recent years – if you go by the number of formal opinions produced by the chambers’ ethics committees.
In March 2011, Pat Smith, director of the Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School, told The Nerve that a proposed $2.3 million budget increase for his school was “quite a surprise for us.”
Since 2008, state Rep. Brian White, chairman of the S.C. House’s most powerful committee, has contributed at least $20,200 in campaign funds to a technical college foundation where his wife works as a fundraiser and a charitable organization where she is a board member, The Nerve found in a review of White’s campaign expense reports.
Over the last three years, state Rep. Bill Sandifer spent nearly $18,000 in campaign funds on credit card payments for unspecified conference expenses, The Nerve found in a review of the Oconee County Republican’s campaign expenditure reports.
Suspended S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell walked out of a Richland County courtroom this morning without having to put up any money for bail after being formally served with indictments charging him with using campaign funds for personal expenses and concealing unlawful campaign payments.
The $12,000-per-lawmaker pay raise proposed earlier this year would have added millions of dollars in benefit costs to the legislative pension system, according to a fiscal impact report provided to the Legislature’s budget-writing committees though never made public.
When a special S.C. House committee meets Tuesday, it is expected to begin debate about whether to dilute the power that suspended and indicted House Speaker Bobby Harrell held for nearly a decade.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson agreed to transfer House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s case to a local solicitor, and the now-indicted and suspended speaker agreed to drop a court motion seeking to disqualify Wilson from prosecuting him, under a secretly approved deal between the two sides last month.
There doesn’t seem to be much interest right now among S.C. legislators to eliminate a special protection for them in the state’s open-records law.
In South Carolina, if you steal more than $2,000 from where you work or shop, or from other places, you could face a felony charge and up to 10 years in state prison if the stolen amount was at least $10,000.
Indicted S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell is expected to voluntarily suspend himself from office today, House Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Lucas told The Nerve this morning.
Longtime S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell faces possible suspension from office after a Richland County grand jury this morning issued nine indictments alleging misconduct in office and violations of the state Ethics Act.
When Glenn McConnell was the state’s lieutenant governor last year, he earned a $46,544 salary for the part-time job.
What isn’t as well known is that the Senate in 2013 gave the Charleston Republican another $8,122 in “subsistence” payments meant to cover hotel and food costs for senators while in Columbia Tuesdays through Thursdays during legislative session weeks, according to Senate records provided to The Nerve under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
The Marriott Grande Dunes hotel on its website bills itself as a “stunning gateway in Myrtle Beach with the perfect balance of resort comfort and business-friendly amenities,” boasting “45,000 square feet of flexible meeting space at our oceanfront resort.”
When former Columbia city employee Faye Goodson was sentenced in 2000 for orchestrating what was described as the biggest scam in recent city history, then-Assistant 5th Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe told the judge, “I think it’s obvious when you look at what she got away with, that she had way too much authority.”
In announcing Saturday that S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson had handed over his case to 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, House Speaker Bobby Harrell said he just wanted “an independent prosecutor free of political motives and influence.”
House Speaker Bobby Harrell announced this morning the state grand jury investigation of him has ended, and that S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is off the case, Bart Daniel, one of Harrell’s attorneys, confirmed to The Nerve.
If you think that local school districts in South Carolina are controlled by their school boards or superintendents, you might want to check out Act 294 of 2010.
All courts shall be public, and every person shall have speedy remedy therein for wrongs sustained. – Article 1, Section 9, S.C. Constitution.
South Carolina’s top court, however, apparently ignored the first part of the above sentence last week in its ruling involving House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson can continue a state grand jury investigation of House Speaker Bobby Harrell and doesn’t need a legislative committee’s permission to do so, the S.C. Supreme Court unanimously said Wednesday.
A review by The Nerve of House expense records obtained under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act found that taxpayers shelled out a total of $3.85 million last year in salaries and expenses for House members, and $2.9 million for the first five months of this year.
S.C. Sen. Paul Campbell serves on the governing board of the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, an annual event in Charleston that draws tens of thousands of visitors and hundreds of artists, exhibitors and wildlife experts from “around the world,” according to its website.
Reformers of the Freedom of Information Act in South Carolina – which recently received a flunking grade in a national study on access to public information – are finding few friends in the S.C. Legislature or Supreme Court these days.
It wasn’t an easy day Tuesday in the state’s top court for S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and one of his top prosecutors.
Creighton Waters, an assistant deputy attorney general, was grilled by the S.C. Supreme Court in the state grand jury case of House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who was among a crowd of at least 150 who packed the small courtroom and overflowed into the lobby of the courthouse, located across the street from the State House.
You won’t find it in the official S.C. Senate Journal, but there initially were more “yes” than “no” votes cast by senators this week for a big pay hike for the 170-member General Assembly.
In a stunning announcement Tuesday, Bill Nettles, the U.S. attorney for South Carolina, revealed that longtime Lexington County Sheriff James Metts was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges he accepted bribes to help several inmates detained at the county jail under an immigration-enforcement program.
A touted “ethics-reform” bill awaiting action next week by the S.C. Senate likely would do little to curb House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s influence over fellow lawmakers, or stop certain campaign-spending abuses by public officials, a review by The Nerve found.
Over the past year or so, S.C. Sen. Brad Hutto made $282,441 from his law practice while he and his wife received investment income ranging from nearly $246,000 to more than $1.4 million, according to his federal income-disclosure report filed last month for his U.S. Senate bid.
It’s not very often that South Carolina’s chief prosecutor can officially vent a little against the state’s top court, but it happened just days ago in the state grand jury case of House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
If Gov. Nikki Haley doesn’t veto a budget proviso passed Wednesday by the General Assembly, lawmakers would get reimbursed for their hotel stays – courtesy of S.C. taxpayers – at rates that are at least 37 percent higher than the current federally authorized rate, a review by The Nerve found.
Sumter County this fiscal year shelled out a collective $39,000 to seven lawmakers who represent the county in lieu of providing them a local delegation office as mandated by state law, county records obtained by The Nerve show.
Charleston attorney Dusty Rhoades has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the case of House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
A political action committee with ties to House Speaker Bobby Harrell apparently has quit disclosing its contributions and expenditures to the State Ethics Commission, but the ethics watchdog agency doesn’t plan to do anything about it.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has asked the state’s top court to review certain documents in secret related to the state grand jury investigation of House Speaker Bobby Harrell, The Nerve has learned.
The S.C. Constitution requires that “annual expenditures of state government may not exceed annual state revenue.”
Yet the state Senate last week skipped over Article 10, Section 7 (a) of the constitution when it approved, by a 25-20 vote, to allow all 170 lawmakers to claim an additional $12,000 yearly in “in-district” payments, which is considered taxable income.
Under an obscure S.C. Supreme Court order, Chief Justice Jean Toal would appoint the trial judge if House Speaker Bobby Harrell is indicted by the state grand jury.
S.C. lawmakers would see salary hikes of up to 192 percent, while House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson would each receive an additional 36-percent pay increase, based on recommendations of a salary study quietly authorized two years ago by the General Assembly.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson or the state grand jury can't investigate whether House Speaker Bobby Harrell broke any criminal ethics laws – at least for now, Circuit Judge Casey Manning said in a ruling issued late this afternoon.
Every quarter, Sen. Paul Campbell says he receives a check from Berkeley County for about $1,600.
Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) is attempting to get a pay raise for legislators into the state budget. For some reason, though, he doesn't seem to want anyone to know who's doing it.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s reimbursement from his campaign account for use of his private plane wasn't the only questionable payment to himself in recent years, a review by The Nerve has found.
South Carolina lawmakers are justly famous for writing exceptions for themselves into state law. It appears House Speaker Bobby Harrell's lawyers have found one that will benefit their client.
Since January 2011, S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell has used $150,000 in campaign funds for various expenses that he has labeled in campaign disclosure reports as “legislative,” a review by The Nerve found.
It appears that arguably the most powerful lawmaker in the S.C. General Assembly would hold his title if his colleagues voted today.
In what critics describe as an unconstitutional power grab, the S.C. House on Wednesday quietly introduced legislation that would give lawmakers the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate criminal violations of state ethics laws by the governor, attorney general and other executive-branch officials.
There apparently will be a Round 2 in the court battle between S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and state House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who is trying to stop Wilson from handling his ethics case before the state grand jury.
Despite explosive testimony in Friday’s unprecedented court hearing pitting South Carolina’s top prosecutor against arguably the state’s most powerful lawmaker, questions remain about what happened in a private meeting last year in the Attorney General's Office.
A court hearing has been scheduled for Friday regarding reported efforts by S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell to secretly try to remove state Attorney General Alan Wilson from an ongoing ethics investigation of the speaker.
S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell – arguably South Carolina’s most powerful lawmaker – was visibly angry after state Attorney General Alan Wilson announced that an ethics investigation of Harrell had been referred to the state grand jury.
Nancy S. Campbell last year was hoping to land a $102,000-a-year seat on the S.C. Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the Palmetto State.
The South Carolina Farm Bureau, considered the state’s most influential farm organization, has not been secret about its opposition to state legislation that would regulate large water withdrawals by farmers.
Over the past six years, longtime S.C. Sen. Hugh Leatherman – the Senate’s most powerful lawmaker – spent more than $600,000 from his campaign account, though he faced no opposition in either the 2008 or 2012 elections.
It’s no secret that S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell actively campaigned for state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, who won re-election last week in a rare judicial race decided by the General Assembly.
Although S.C. taxpayers already provide armed police officers on the State House grounds – in addition to separate security staffs for House and Senate members – lawmakers are once again proposing the creation of a “Capitol Police Force.”
From 2008 through 2012, S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell reimbursed himself more than $234,000 from his campaign account for legislative and other trips, campaign expenditure reports show.
When interviewed by The Nerve last September, Bart Daniel, one of S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s attorneys, seemed confident about the outcome of a State Law Enforcement Division investigation of his client.
When U.S. Senate candidate Lee Bright, a Republican state senator from Spartanburg County, filed his required federal income-disclosure form last month, he listed a company he owns as one of his private income sources.
S.C. Rep. Bill Chumley will finally get his day in court before the House Ethics Committee – two days before Christmas.
In January, S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell and his spokesman, Greg Foster, took a state plane trip to Greenville for an unspecified speaking event and meeting with local government officials, state flight records show.
Although he’s a funeral home director and owner, S.C. Rep. John King doesn’t see any conflict of interest in sponsoring legislation that would allow funeral homes to keep the bodies of families’ loved ones until their funeral tabs are paid.
As state lawmakers plan to continue debate next year whether to relinquish their self-policing powers, defendants in an ongoing ethics lawsuit involving a newly elected senator are staking out the status-quo position.
In November 2010, Dillon County voters overwhelmingly approved a proposal to have the county board of education popularly elected instead of being appointed by the county’s legislative delegation.
Ex-Sen. Robert Ford, who resigned in May amid a Senate Ethics Committee hearing into allegations that he used campaign funds for personal expenses, claims the committee “needed a sacrificial lamb and they chose me.”
Since Jan. 1 of last year, S.C. Research Authority CEO Bill Mahoney has received $108,752 in “incentive” compensation above his current annual salary of $280,000, organization records show.
At last Tuesday’s meeting of a special S.C. Senate ethics study committee, Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry and the committee chairman, said despite a local editorial calling on people to contact him to push for ethics reform, “Not one person has mentioned anything to me that’s not inside this political arena we’re in to urge me to do anything.”
Jordan Bryngelson of Ridgeville didn’t make it past the June 2012 GOP primary for the S.C. House seat held by Democratic incumbent Patsy Knight. After losing the primary, the Dorchester County Republican Party chairman said he closed his campaign account.
In the pay-raise race, the S.C. Senate is running neck and neck these days with the House.
A State Law Enforcement Division spokesman said Tuesday an investigation of S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell is “still open and ongoing,” seven months after the South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – filed an ethics complaint against the Charleston Republican.
Here in the Palmetto State, S.C. Sen. Shane Martin is kind of like “Mr. Magic Man” – at least when it comes to revealing to the public what he does for a living, which just so happens to be connected to NASCAR.
An investigation by The Nerve found at least one instance where Martin's lack of transparency as a lawmaker might have allowed him to engage in an apparent conflict of interest related to his work in the racing world.
As the great-nephew of a deceased South Carolina governor, state Rep. Walt McLeod III has a family history steeped in public service and the law.
It may be hard to miss a pig in a dress, but some South Carolina legislators apparently go to great lengths to hide pork in the state budget.
Case in point: The Senate's votes last week on Gov. Nikki Haley’s vetoes of a section of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ budget for next fiscal year, which started Monday.
If you want to put on the black robe in South Carolina, it pays to have connections in the General Assembly.
Your chances are even better if you were once part of the legislative club.
Consider this ethical sticky wicket:
A state politician hires registered lobbyists as election campaign “consultants.” Some of the lobbyists' clients donate money to the politician's campaign during the period when the lobbyists acted as the politician's consultants.
Illegal? Not necessarily – at least in the Palmetto State.
While one profession lays claim to being the world's oldest, there's another that's just as ancient – midwifery.
There’s no question that state Sen. Nikki Setzler is the proud father of four children.There’s also little dispute that the Lexington County Democrat is one of South Carolina’s most influential lawmakers, having served in the Senate for more than 36 years and currently holding the title of Senate minority leader.
A $200,000 earmark in next fiscal year’s proposed state budget is a minuscule fraction of the state spending plan for 2013-14, but it’s apparently a big deal to longtime S.C. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter.
When it comes to taxpayer-funded payrolls, Eric Bedingfield might have one of the most unusual working arrangements in the United States.
S.C. Sen. Hugh Leatherman, who wields more power than most legislators, apparently is still in the driver’s seat on a bill that would direct $50 million to the state Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which is governed by a board that includes the Florence County Republican.
House and Senate conference committee members who met for the first time Wednesday afternoon on a bill that would restructure state government have significant differences about who should have the authority to purchase goods and services, and allow agency deficits.
With just two days left in the General Assembly’s regular session, one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers has found a way around the normal legislative process to get his funding proposal in a transportation bill.
Over the past six fiscal years, medical businesses with ties to five S.C. lawmakers collectively have received more than $10 million in Medicaid payments, The Nerve found in a review of state Medicaid records.
The referral of an ethics complaint against Sen. Robert Ford to the S.C. attorney general could reignite the push to pass a stalled ethics-reform bill in the final days of the 2013 legislative session.
For four-plus hours Thursday afternoon, the S.C. Senate Ethics Committee heard testimony – some of it fairly sensitive for a legislative hearing – alleging how over a period of four years Sen. Robert Ford used campaign funds for such things as car payments, gym memberships, adult superstore items and an erectile-dysfunction treatment drug.
The S.C. Senate’s debate on the 2013-14 budget dragged into a third week Tuesday, and it could continue another day or so as the chamber must also approve the $112.6 million Capital Reserve Fund, which lawmakers have drained in recent years for typically non-emergency purposes.
Death isn’t cheap these days.
The S.C. Senate is running out of time.
A Charleston-based pharmaceutical company led by S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell filed official paperwork with the state in April to dissolve, then reversed that decision this month for unexplained reasons, according to records obtained Monday by The Nerve.
A legislator who also is a volunteer state constable has co-sponsored a bill that would allow volunteer constables to claim a maximum state income-tax deduction of $3,000 a year.
The S.C. House and Senate Finance Committee versions of the fiscal 2014 state budget include $5 million for regional economic-development groups.
A Senate panel Tuesday scrapped major parts of a controversial House ethics-reform bill, putting investigations of lawmakers under a reconstituted State Ethics Commission and proposing tougher penalties for ethics violations.
More S.C. lawmakers in the past week have responded to the recently launched “Project Conflict Watch” by The Nerve’s parent organization, the South Carolina Policy Council, bringing the total number of responses to date to 25.
An investigation by The Nerve found that S.C. Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston and a member of the Charleston County Aviation Authority, has not publicly revealed airport-related businesses with ties to his uncle.
After delaying debate several times over the past week, the S.C. House took less than an hour late Tuesday afternoon to approve an amended ethics-reform bill, though two opposing lawmakers complained afterward they didn’t have time to review the changes.
Since last year, citizens and some lawmakers have pushed to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in South Carolina, ranked by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigation news organization in Washington, D.C., and several other groups as the worst state in the nation in terms of public access to information.
The South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – recently launched “Project Conflict Watch” in an effort to reverse the Palmetto State’s dubious distinction as being the only state that requires public officials to disclose just their sources of government income.
A review by The Nerve found that Greg Foster, chief spokesman for S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, has received tens of thousands of dollars in recent years from side jobs connected with Harrell.
A controversial S.C. House “ethics-reform” bill criticized for being shrouded in secrecy grew even more mysterious Thursday when House leaders delayed floor debate yet again after a secret meeting on a planned overhaul of the legislation.
Citizens would have to register as lobbyists to speak before committees of the General Assembly or state agencies under a controversial House bill that also would decriminalize many state ethics violations, representatives of citizen groups said this afternoon at a State House press conference.
It took a controversy last week over decriminalized ethics violations to underscore the point to S.C. House members that a rushed and secretive “ethics-reform” bill contained weak penalties for public officials who violate state ethics laws.
State Rep. Kit Spires, R-Lexington, denies he had any conflict-of-interest issues in sponsoring seven pharmacy-related bills since becoming a lawmaker in 2007.
Public officials would no longer face criminal penalties for many state ethics violations under an S.C. House bill that wasn’t put in writing for the public to review until Thursday evening –a week after the legislation was first announced.
An ethics-reform bill that had been a mystery until a House Judiciary subcommittee meeting Tuesday would, among other things, require lawmakers to disclose their private sources of income.
An investigation by The Nerve has found that South Carolina lawmakers typically don't reveal their private sources of income, including, for example, Sen. Hugh Leatherman, who has ties to a concrete company that has received more than $30 million in state funding since 1993.
Ethics-reform bills that would force S.C. lawmakers to change their behavior remain stuck in committees with an important deadline approaching.
The makeup of the Medical University of South Carolina’s governing board might soon include the relatives of three sitting state lawmakers, along with a legislator who left office last year.
For politicians, the difference between state and federal income-disclosure forms is like comparing routine teeth cleaning to a root-canal operation.
That O.L Thompson and Bobby Harrell are political allies is a no-brainer.
What S.C. House members likely won’t be talking about today as they begin debate on the fiscal 2014 spending plan for South Carolina is the billion-dollar-plus hidden budget.
A new government-restructuring bill in the S.C. House Representatives would move state-purchasing control to the new Department of Administration under the governor and abolish the longstanding Budget and Control Board and recently created Public Employee Benefit Authority.
Despite all the talk in the Legislature about giving the governor more control over the executive branch, South Carolina’s newest state agency is largely unaccountable to the Palmetto State’s chief executive.
Embattled House Speaker Bobby Harrell faced his colleagues for the first time Tuesday since state Attorney General Alan Wilson referred an ethics complaint to the State Law Enforcement Division on Valentine’s Day.
The Senate Finance subcommittee examining a massive government-restructuring bill would allow a Budget and Control Board-like authority to retain some of the same powers, under a bill version that goes before the full committee Tuesday.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s acceptance today of an ethics complaint against state House Speaker Bobby Harrell highlights conflict-of-interest weaknesses in state law dealing with the House Ethics Committee. Ashley Landess, president of the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve, this afternoon filed a formal complaint against Harrell, R-Charleston, with the attorney general, whose office said it would be over to the State Law Enforcement Division.
High-ranking officials with two state pharmacy organizations in 2010 expressed concerns then that S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell was using his legislative position to help his pharmaceutical company, according to emails obtained this week by The Nerve.
Ethics experts outside South Carolina weigh in on handling of ethics case involving S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
The S.C. Commission on Ethics Reform on Monday proposed sweeping reforms to state ethics laws, which include requiring state legislators and other public officials to report their private sources of income.
The makeup of the S.C. House Ethics Committee isn’t illegal if you ask new committee Chairman Kenny Bingham, though he introduced a bill last week in response to a Nerve story that raised questions about the legality of the committee’s size.
Despite a Senate bill that would eliminate the controversial S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank as a separate state agency, that idea received no attention in a hearing Wednesday before a House budget-writing subcommittee.
The South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – is considering filing a formal ethics complaint against state House Speaker Bobby Harrell, council President Ashley Landess revealed during a hearing this morning before the S.C. Commission on Ethics Reform.
Section 11-11-90 of the state code is an inconvenient truth for the General Assembly, and thanks to a decision Thursday by a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, it will stay that way at least for now.
The makeup of the newly reorganized state House Ethics Committee violates state law, critics say.
A review by The Nerve found that all five Republican members of the S.C House Ethics Committee, which might be called on to investigate possible campaign-violation allegations involving House Speaker Bobby Harrell, each has accepted campaign contributions from a political action committee associated with Harrell.
A state senator is proposing a major overhaul of the way judges are selected in the Palmetto State, though he acknowledges his legislation faces an uphill battle in both chambers of the General Assembly.
Language that would strike an obscure state law currently being ignored by the General Assembly could be removed from a massive government restructuring bill, a state senator told The Nerve Thursday following a Senate panel hearing on the legislation.
The head of a government watchdog organization says he plans to ask the S.C. House Ethics Committee to give the state’s top prosecutor first crack at investigating House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s campaign reimbursements over the past several years.
From January through November this year, 11 Midlands senators received a total of nearly $98,000 in "subsistence" payments meant to cover hotel and food costs while the Legislature is in session, a review by The Nerve found.
Once again, the S.C. Senate has rebuffed the chance to elevate South Carolina from its status as one of the least transparent states in the nation.
Three state senators have proposed repealing a longstanding law requiring that the Legislature's budget-writing committees hold joint public hearings on the governor's proposed budget.
An S.C. House member on Tuesday reintroduced a bill proposing major reforms in the state’s open-records law, and added more enforcement teeth in his latest version.
Nerve Citizen Reporter Larry Barnett of Fort Mill shows no signs of slowing down his campaign to reform Senate rules with a new legislative session right around the corner.
In keeping with tradition, the S.C. House has not released its proposed spending plan for fiscal 2014, which starts July 1.
Incumbent Richland and Lexington County House members surveyed by The Nerve won't commit to give up "subsistence" payments meant to cover hotel and food costs during legislative sessions, despite pledges by two incoming lawmakers to do so.
The S.C. Judicial Merit Selection Commission nominated eight of 10 judicial candidates who had formal complaints filed against them during the screening process.
Less than a month after Gov. Nikki Haley signed a 2011 law allowing Richland County’s legislative delegation to hire a county elections director, the delegation quietly selected Lillian McBride to oversee the newly combined elections and voter registration offices at a starting salary of $85,000, records show.
The state’s top prosecutor isn’t budging from his position that the S.C. House Ethics Committee should first investigate House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s campaign reimbursements over the past several years, the longtime leader of a state government watchdog group said Thursday.
A review by The Nerve of flight logs and other records found that S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston was reimbursed for flying and driving during legislative session weeks since 2008.
Over the past year, Gov. Nikki Haley, state lawmakers, Clemson University officials and others collectively took at least 118 mostly round trips on two state-owned planes at a total taxpayer cost of more than $215,000, state flight records show.A joint investigation by The Nerve and WLTX-TV in Columbia found that no one at the state level is checking to make sure that travelers are using the planes for legitimate purposes.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson might be willing to investigate the use of campaign funds by state House Speaker Bobby Harrell, though he apparently is in no rush to do so.
The Nerve examines the role of the state grand jury in connection with a campaign-finance case involving S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
Fines and other sanctions against S.C. lawmakers are not published online and usually are not released publicly unless there is a specific request.
South Carolina is only one of two states in which its legislative leaders control the makeup of a panel that nominates judicial candidates, The Nerve found in a review of judicial screening committees nationwide.
Nerve Citizen Reporter Don Rogers discusses his views on the Delegation Watchdog Project.
Nearly two months after state lawmakers quietly slipped in an additional $2.5 million for the S.C. House chamber’s budget for this fiscal year, House leaders continue to be tight-lipped about specifics on how the tax dollars will be used.
Nearly 30 S.C. attorney-lawmakers or law firms they worked for collectively earned more than $5.3 million in legal fees from state and local government agencies in 2011, according to The Nerve’s review of the legislators’ most recently filed income-disclosure forms.
Two lawmakers typically control pay raises for legislative staffers earning at least $50,000 annually.
As of March, 32 S.C. House staffers earning at least $50,000 annually had received raises ranging from 5 percent to 55 percent compared to the previous fiscal year, according to a review by The Nerve of a state salary database and House records.
An S.C. House member was paid more than $12,500 in legislative salary and expense reimbursements from January through June, despite racking up unexcused absences for virtually all of the legislative session this year, a review by The Nerve found.
Since 2007, a total of $85,500 in state tax dollars has been appropriated for a private, nonprofit group to hold annual meetings at the State House in Columbia to craft its legislative agenda for the upcoming year.
Perhaps more importantly, this section of state law mandates public hearings on the budget that the Legislature has not been conducting – thereby denying taxpayers their due input in the setting of the state’s spending priorities.
The S.C. House of Representatives is poised to receive $2.5 million more than the chamber originally requested for the fiscal year that started Sunday – a last-minute appropriation quietly approved by a state budget conference committee and signed off by the Legislature.
The selection of judges in South Carolina is controlled largely by state lawmakers, which critics contend needs to be reformed.
If the S.C. House Ethics Committee finds Gov. Nikki Haley guilty of allegations that she illegally lobbied while a member of the House, Haley would not be subject to stricter ethics penalties the House adopted in May, a government watchdog says.
The chairmen of the S.C. House and Senate Ethics committees said Wednesday they are open to discussions in their respective chambers about requiring lawmakers to declare legislative pensions on state income-disclosure forms.
This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It is a simple matter of a fair legal interpretation.
Efforts to strength South Carolina's Freedom of Information Act were scuttled in the state Senate this week.
Lawmakers are once again seeking to funnel nearly $5 million in taxpayer funds to seven private regional economic development organizations, two of which have at least one state senator on their governing board.
A bill allowing the chairmen of the two powerful budget-writing committees in the General Assembly to serve on the S.C. Research Authority’s governing board is one step closer to becoming law.
The long-held control of county legislative delegations over county veterans' affairs officers will remain intact for at least another year.
Outside groups collectively spent more than $130,000 on lawmakers' travel in 2011, The Nerve's review of state ethics records found.
An ethics case involving Gov. Nikki Haley already has been the apparent source of a change toward more openness in the S.C. House, and it could lead to additional reforms in the chamber.
Although South Carolina has a relatively small Turkish population and no major trade with Turkey, eight S.C. senators apparently thought it was important enough to go on a 10-day, all-expenses-paid trip to the Middle Eastern country last year.
The S.C. House last week danced a conspicuous ethics two-step, in what one State House watchdog describes as exactly the kind of bull pucky that makes taxpayers cynical about politicians and government.
Fourteen of 20 of the chairmen of key S.C. legislative committees have agreed to record votes taken at the committee and subcommittee levels, according to an Upstate transparency advocate.
One of the state’s most powerful lawmakers has authored a bill that would put himself on the board of trustees and executive committee of a little-understood, state-controlled technology and real estate company.
Dozens of S.C. magistrates are still on their bench even though their four-year terms have expired - some years ago.
If S.C. Rep. Seth Whipper has his way, the 124-member House would start meeting every Monday when the General Assembly is in session.
A House bill would allow current lawmakers to continue receiving their state pensions while remaining in office.
A judge’s recent dismissal of an ethics lawsuit against Gov. Nikki Haley serves as yet another example of secrecy surrounding ethics matters in the S.C. House. So does the case of former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, who pleaded guilty to seven campaign finance violations and resigned earlier this month.
S.C. Senate Clerk Jeffrey Gossett apparently is in no mood to publicly discuss his chamber’s proposed $12 million-plus budget for next fiscal year.
In South Carolina, there is one set of rules for state legislators, and another set of rules for everybody else – even state and local elected officials.
Grassroots groups pushing for more accountability and transparency in state government are running into a wall of secrecy in the S.C. General Assembly in trying to obtain legislative communications involving a controversial bill.
The S.C. House and Senate continue to bypass the normal budgetary process when it comes to adopting annual budgets for the two chambers.
An investigation by The Nerve found that several hundred thousand dollars likely will be spent before June wining and dining state lawmakers. A plethora of private organizations and public agencies host the events in an effort to get legislators’ ears – and ultimately, their votes – for the groups’ pet issues.
The S.C. House and Senate typically release their respective chamber budgets months after most other state agencies do so, allowing lawmakers to quietly increase their own budgets with little public scrutiny.
S.C. Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston pre-filed a bill (S. 1038) that would close the defined-benefit retirement program for the 170-member General Assembly after this year and move lawmakers into a defined-contribution plan mirroring the state Optional Retirement Program, which is like a 401k plan.
The state's open-records law for more than 30 years has shielded the S.C. General Assembly from releasing documents showing what it does behind the scenes.
The S.C. Supreme Court has been asked to determine whether a 2007 law that appointed two state legislators to the Charleston County Aviation Authority, which owns Charleston International Airport, violates the state constitution.
The Nerve’s review of Aeronautics Commission flight logs and manifests, or passenger lists, shows that from Jan. 1, 2010, through the end of last month, legislators collectively have approved at least 29 state plane trips for themselves, staff members or others to destinations in and outside South Carolina.
A review by The Nerve of state House and Senate expense records, obtained under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, found that from the start of last year through August of this year, 23 Richland or Lexington County legislators living within 25 miles of the State House have received subsistence payments equal to or greater than payments to lawmakers who live farther away.
As S.C. lawmakers grapple with how to close a recently projected $17 billion gap in the state pension system, 169 state retirees or their beneficiaries earn more than $100,000 annually in retirement benefits, while more than 3,500 individuals in the system receive at least $50,000 yearly, a review by The Nerve has found.
In a 4-1 vote, the state’s top court said the General Assembly violated the S.C. Constitution last year when it overrode former Gov. Mark Sanford’s veto of a bill (H. 4431) involving the Fairfield County School Board.
A year after the Senate received a $5 million overall budget increase for its 46-member chamber – as first reported last year by The Nerve – the 124-member House is seeking a nearly $2.3 million hike for itself, which was quietly slipped in a state budget amendment on the last day for regular business this legislative session.
Since 2006, South Carolina has spent at least $60,000 on highway and other structure signs named after state lawmakers or other individuals, The Nerve found in a review of state transportation records.
As the S.C. General Assembly begins its 119th legislative session this week, the two chambers are maintaining a tradition of secrecy about their own operating budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.
The Nerve on Dec. 6 submitted requests under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act to House Clerk Charles Reid and Senate Clerk Jeffrey Gossett for their proposed chamber budgets for next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
For some S.C. senators, it pays to have connections with state government.
From 2007 through 2009, S.C. Sen. Kevin Bryant’s pharmacy earned $5 million in payments through the state health plan and Medicaid programs, according to his statements of economic interests filed with the S.C. Ethics Commission.
The Legislature's single-vote practice of overturning vetoes on local legislation is being challenged in the S.C. Supreme Court.
A nearly $5 million budget increase this year for the S.C. Senate is helping to cover pay raises for Senate staffers, despite assertions by leaders of the chamber that the money was needed for other, pressing concerns.
Besides his salary as lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer has been paid thousands more is his role as the Senate president.
Republican S.C. Sen. Jake Knotts of West Columbia lives less than 10 miles from the State House in downtown Columbia.
Democratic state Rep. Joe Neal’s home in Hopkins is only about 16 miles from the state Capitol.
Yet an analysis by The Nerve of legislative records found that the two veteran Midlands lawmakers were among 26 current or former Richland or Lexington County legislators who received a total of at least $500,000 over a 2.5-year period in “subsistence” payments.
Taxpaying South Carolinians, if your state lawmaker looks you in the face and says his or her legislative salary is a lowly $10,400, he or she is not telling you the whole story.
At the very least.
At worst, a member of the General Assembly poor mouthing to that effect without mentioning several other forms of compensation legislators pocket would be downright disingenuous.
The S.C. Legislature is no cheap date for taxpayers.
From Jan. 1, 2008, through this past July 31, state taxpayers shelled out at least $14.8 million to cover salaries and expenses for 202 current or former House and Senate members, The Nerve found in a review of records from each chamber, obtained under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
In South Carolina, retired legislators earn an annual average of $19,605 in gross retirement benefits, based on July figures from the state retirement system.
Assuming the budget passed Thursday by the full Senate mirrors an earlier version approved by the Senate Finance Committee, it would be the 46-member chamber’s largest-ratified budget in at least the past 12 years, according to a review by The Nerve of ratified state budgets since fiscal year 1998, the most recent data available
South Carolina taxpayers will shell out nearly $6.5 million this fiscal year for top-paid state House and Senate staffers.