#TBT: Campaign Funds for High-Dollar Vacations?

December 10, 2015

Inside Insight

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Jerusalem

In South Carolina, the line between legal and illegal uses of campaign money is very, very blurry. Really, it’s not even a line.

Over the years, our reporters have written two sentences so many times that they probably should have created macros for them.

First: “As has been his longstanding practice with The Nerve, Leatherman did not respond to written requests seeking comment for this story.”

And second: “State ethics law (Section 8-13-1348 of the S.C. Code of Laws) bans lawmakers from using campaign funds for personal expenses.”

It’s the second of these that we want to mention today. What is “personal” and what isn’t?

South Carolina lawmakers have long been in the habit of using campaign funds for just about anything: “charitable” donations to their wives’ employers; membership dues at swanky clubs; their own businesses; high-quality neckwear; and attorney fees for legal defense.

Of course, former House Speaker Bobby Harrell went too far by trying to pay off his personal plane with his campaign account. And Robert Ford went too far by using his campaign credit card for products of a – how to put it? – personal nature.

But in their defense, it’s not at all clear what you can and can’t do with that campaign credit card.  It’s not clear what “too far” is. Why is it okay to give that money to your wife’s employer, but not to pay off your plane? Why is it okay to dump campaign cash into your own office supply store, to pay dues at the Capital City Club, and to distribute “gifts” to constituents and pay for them with your campaign card – but it’s not okay to use that card for “adult” gifts for your staffers?

Oh, and why is it okay to use your campaign account to take a vacation to the Middle East? Consider this story from almost exactly one year ago, about how several lawmakers went on a junket – also known as a vacation – to the Holy Land. Using their campaign account. Using, in other words, money that didn’t actually belong to them.

You tell us: Was it legal or not? Should it have been legal, or not?