Lawmakers give Harrell one month to prepare argument for ethics committee

Published: Nov. 2, 2015 at 9:18 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 2, 2015 at 9:54 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC/WIS) - Lawmakers are giving former state House Speaker Bobby Harrell one month to prepare his argument for the Legislative Ethics Committee that using campaign funds to cover his legal fees isn't illegal.

Much of the case focuses on one legal document from 2012, an advisory opinion from the House Legislative Ethics Committee, that could help decide whether Harrell needs to pay back the funds, approximately $113,000.

If Harrell had any apprehension facing the House Legislative Ethics Committee nearly a year after pleading guilty to misconduct in office and resigning as House Speaker, he didn't show it. Instead, Harrell greeted lawmakers warmly, and sat quietly as his attorney, Mark Peper, did the talking.

"Everything is fact dependent," Peper said. "You want to know what the facts are and hear from both sides before you can make an informed decision as to how to proceed."

That informed decision deals with the money then-Speaker Harrell paid his attorney, Bart Daniel, from Harrell's campaign account during his ethics investigation and subsequent public corruption trial.

"We asked them to respond, here's an advisory opinion saying you cannot use campaign funds for legal expenses if it's a charge of personal misconduct," Rep. Kenny Bingham of Lexington said.

The opinion stems back to 2012, when hundreds of candidates were thrown off ballots statewide. The legal document says using campaign funds for legal fees to get back on the ballot was okay.

The last lines of the document point out charges like the one Harrell pleaded guilty to aren't covered by campaign dollars, but each case can be argued on the facts.

"The committee can't take a position unless they have all the facts," Peper said.

Bingham said they asked Daniel why Harrell and his legal team thought paying with campaign funds was allowed. Bingham said Daniel simply responded, "I told him I thought he could."

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