Landing on easy street: Sen. Campbell’s airport contract offers generous pay, perks

July 31, 2019

Investigative Reports

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By RICK BRUNDRETT

Longtime state Sen. Paul Campbell gets plenty of perks as the Charleston International Airport director – on top of his growing six-figure salary, according to his current contract released last week to The Nerve.

He can get reimbursed, for example, for “reasonable entertainment expenses,” and receives a $1,000 monthly car allowance.

Under the two-year contract, which expires next month, the Charleston County Aviation Authority (CCAA) can fire Campbell for “dishonest” or “unethical” conduct even if he is not criminally charged, though it also requires him and the authority to try to “resolve all disputes between themselves.”

The contract was in effect when the Berkeley County Republican, who has been the CCAA’s executive director since 2013, was arrested in 2017 on charges of driving under the influence and lying to police. All charges stemming from the Nov. 4, 2017, incident on Interstate 26 in North Charleston were later dropped.

The Nerve reported last month that a recently released police video raised questions about whether the then-71-year-old Campbell, who was the Senate Ethics Committee chairman at the time and has been in the Senate since 2007, tried to use his position as a lawmaker to get out of the charges.

At the time, The Nerve requested copies of his current contract with the CCAA and a new, one-year agreement approved by the authority – which hiked his salary to $300,000 – but was instructed to submit a formal request for the records under the state Freedom of Information Act.

The CCAA, which owns and operates three Charleston-area airports, including Charleston International Airport, provided the existing contract to The Nerve last week but declined to release the new agreement, contending it is not yet finalized.

The CCAA is governed by an 11-member board, six members of which are nominated by state House and Senate members representing Charleston County and approved by the governor. The Charleston County Council and Charleston City Council jointly appoint one member, while the mayors of Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant and the Charleston County Council chairman serve as ex-officio members. Board members serve four-year terms.

Campbell’s base annual salary under his existing contract is $250,000, though according to his income-disclosure statement filed in March with the State Ethics Commission, he received $275,252 in salary last year. His contract allows pay raises at the “discretion” of the CCAA board, which is required to annually review his compensation.

Campbell also receives other benefits from the CCAA under his contract, including:

  • Reimbursement for all “reasonable and necessary expenses,” including “reasonable entertainment expenses” in “carrying out his duties under this Agreement”;
  • Paid membership in “industry organizations customary for this position and reasonable travel and attendance”;
  • State retirement and deferred compensation benefits;
  • Medical and life insurance, or $1,000 monthly if he chooses not to participate in the CCAA plan; and
  • A $1,000 monthly car allowance.

The two-year contract was signed on Aug. 25, 2017 – less than three months before his arrest – and runs through Aug. 25 of this year.

Campbell is required under the contract to “devote his best efforts and full attention and skill” as the CCAA’s executive director and CEO, though while the Senate is in session, he “may fulfill these duties remotely.”

In 2013, the state Attorney General’s Office, headed by Alan Wilson, said in a written opinion that Campbell’s positions as the airport authority’s executive director and senator likely wouldn’t violate the state constitutional ban on dual office holding.

Caught on video

Campbell’s existing contract allows the CCAA to fire him for cause, including for “demonstration of gross negligence or willful misconduct,” or if he is convicted of or pleads guilty to a “felony, crime of moral turpitude, other serious crime, or to an offense that affects the reputation of either CCAA or Employee.”

The CCAA under the contract also can fire Campbell for participating in “any fraud, embezzlement, dishonest, unethical conduct or act,” though a criminal charge or conviction is not required under that section.

In his 2017 arrest, Campbell is seen on a YouTube video, posted by “Real World Police” in May of this year, telling a state trooper that he is a state senator, noting, “I want to be sure you’re clear and I’m clear.” He also told the trooper after his arrest he was “good friends” with the state Highway Patrol commander, and that he was in charge of running Charleston International Airport.

The driver of the Jeep that was rear-ended by his Mercedes SUV told troopers she saw him switch seats with his wife after the crash. That resulted in a charge against Sen. Campbell of furnishing false information to police, in addition to his DUI charge.

The then-21-year-old driver on the video also reported that after the approximately 9 p.m. collision, Campbell came over to her and handed her his Senate business card.

Under state ethics law, a public official can’t use his office, or attempt to use his position, to “influence a government decision” in which he has “an economic interest,” defined as an “economic benefit of fifty dollars or more.” A violation of that section can be a criminal offense, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

On the video, Campbell was informed at the Charleston County Detention Center that his blood-alcohol level after being a given a breath test was .09 percent, above the legal limit of .08 percent. But Colleton County magistrate Elbert Duffie, who is not in Campbell’s legislative district, dropped the DUI charge after Campbell’s lawyers contended troopers violated state law by not acting on his request for a separate blood test, according to a (Charleston) Post & Courier story.

The Horry County Solicitor’s Office, which was assigned to handle the case, dropped the false information charge against Campbell in late February 2018, just before his scheduled trial, the newspaper reported.

Initially contacted last month by The Nerve, Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, who is the current chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said he wasn’t aware of the YouTube video but would review it. On Tuesday, Bennett said he watched the video but declined further comment on it, adding the committee “just can’t comment on it in any way unless there is a finding, and those findings are publicized when they’re made.”

In an interview last month with The Nerve, Campbell denied using his legislative position to try to influence authorities when he was arrested, or that he violated any state ethics laws. In a follow-up email, he said the CCAA and Senate Ethics Committee were “kept informed” following his arrest.

The Nerve last month asked the Attorney General’s Office if it planned to investigate Campbell, based on the contents of the YouTube video, for possible state ethics violations. A spokesman in an email replied that “there’s nothing new for us to investigate now.”

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

Nerve stories are free to reprint and repost with permission by and credit to The Nerve.