COLUMBIA, SC (WISTV) - Attorney General Alan Wilson's office has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to assign an agent to investigate "possible criminal violations" by Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell.
In a letter delivered to SLED Director Mark Keel Thursday afternoon, Assistant Attorney General John W. McIntosh says he received allegations against Harrell from South Carolina Policy Council President Ashley Landess.
Harrell released the following statement:
"This is a baseless attack that is driven by personal and political vendetta. What little "facts" I have seen this political group put forward have been disproven and the rest appears to be the product of an over-active imagination. The real reason why this political group did not file anything at the appropriate place, the House Ethics Committee, is because it would prevent them from holding any more press conferences. And as shown by their lack of fact and substance, this political group's goal is to conduct a smear campaign against me in the media."
Landess alleges in a letter of her own that Harrell committed ethics violations that could not be properly investigated by the House Ethics Committee because of what she calls "multiple conflicts of interest" inherent within the committee's investigative process.
"We do not file this complaint lightly or without supporting documentation," says the letter to Attorney General Alan Wilson from the Policy Council. "Indeed, we hoped that by now these concerns would have been investigated and addressed. But months later, the public still has no answers as to a pattern of alleged continuing ethics violations by the Speaker of the House."
The letter alleges five examples of potential violations against the Speaker. Those violations were not revealed in Landess' letter.
"Clearly," continues the letter, "the House Ethics Committee's process is not designed to consider a complaint against the Speaker of the House. There is no formal process by which the inherent conflicts could be resolved and thus no party to a complaint against any House Speaker could be assured of objectivity or fairness."
The complaints were filed months ago by the Policy Council and Common Cause. They asked state investigators to review Harrell's use of almost $326,000 in campaign funds. This is money reimbursed to Harrell largely as travel expenses with much of it to cover costs of Harrell's use of his private plane.
Critics say Harrell failed to follow the law because many of the expenditures were not linked to proper receipts or invoices.
Common Cause Director John Crangle says he sent a letter to Attorney General Alan Wilson on Sept. 24 to ask for an investigation.
State law dictates any alleged ethics violations by a House or Senate be investigated by the House or Senate ethics committees.
House Ethics Committee Chairman Kenny Bingham released a statement a short time later, saying Landess and her attorney, Sen. Tom Davis, met with him earlier in the week to discuss the Ethics Committee's process. Bingham says Davis and Landess did not file a complaint with his committee and did not reveal the potential violations.
"I have every confidence the attorney general will conduct a fair and complete investigation," said Bingham in the statement. "Because this matter is now under review by SLED and the Attorney General's Office, it would be inappropriate for me to make any additional comments."
Wilson's office has asked Keel to assign an investigator to the case.