S.C. House Committee Leadership: Same Old, Same Old?

December 3, 2014

Investigative Reports

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Running WheelNewly 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.

Lucas, R-Darlington, has decided to keep budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, and Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee and the Labor, Commerce and Industry chairman, on their respective committees, according to several legislative sources.Those committees will select their own chairmen, though incumbents typically are re-elected if they still want the job.

Efforts by The Nerve this morning to reach Lucas were unsuccessful.

The Nerve in October reported that White, who sits on the state Budget and Control Board because he is the Ways and Means chairman, contributed more than $20,000 in campaign funds since 2008 to a technical college foundation where his wife works as a fundraiser and a charitable organization where she is a board member.

The Nerve also reported in October that Sandifer spent nearly $18,000 in campaign funds over the last three years on credit card payments for unspecified conference expenses – an amount on top of about $9,500 that the sponsors of 12 mostly in-state conferences spent on him during the same period. As the LCI chairman, Sandifer is the gatekeeper of business-related bills that go through the 124-member House.

UPDATE: In the LCI committee’s organizational meeting, Rep. Ralph Norman nominated Rep. Nathan Ballentine for chairman – this despite the fact that Sandifer was the incumbent to the position and had not been removed by Speaker Lucas. Ballentine received six votes: his own, as well as those of Reps. Norman, Eric Bedingfield, Dan Hamilton, Deborah Long, and Todd Atwater.

UPDATE (2): A video of chairman Sandifer expressing angry disapproval of the vote is available here. (Chairman Sandifer’s comments begin about 7 minutes into the video.)

Neither White nor Sandifer has been accused formally of any wrongdoing, whether in or outside their roles as committee chairmen.

Lucas, who was elected House speaker Tuesday without opposition to replace Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, who resigned from office after pleading guilty in October to spending campaign funds on personal expenses, also renamed, according to legislative sources, the following House members to the Ways and Means Committee, considered the chamber’s most powerful committee:

  • Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington and the House Ethics Committee chairman, who, as The Nerve reported in October, did not disclose his engineering business contracts with several state agencies, collectively worth more than $62,000, on his recent annual income-disclosure reports;
  • Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, who, as The Nerve reported, sponsored a proposed $200,000 budget earmark in 2013 for her nonprofit organization;
  • Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, who, according to a 2012 story in the Charleston Post & Courier, ran a communications business that had received $123,000 from the Palmetto Leadership Council, a political action committee affiliated with Harrell;
  • Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston and a member of the Charleston County Aviation Authority, who, as The Nerve reported in 2013, has ties to a relative’s airport-related businesses; and
  • Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, who, as The Nerve reported in 2013, is a partner in a medical supply business that had received more than $2 million in Medicaid payments over the previous six fiscal years. The Nerve reported in 2012 that a law firm in which Smith, a lawyer, is a partner had received more than $590,000 in 2011 for work connected to public agencies.

None of the above listed lawmakers has been formally accused of doing anything wrong related to their legislative offices.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.