Distributed by the SC Progressive Network at today's press conference
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP, WLTX) - Groups from opposite ends of the political spectrum want the state's top prosecutor to investigate House Speaker Bobby Harrell's spending.
Representatives from groups including the South Carolina Progressive Network and the libertarian South Carolina Policy Council said Tuesday that Attorney General Alan Wilson should use the State Grand Jury to investigate the powerful Charleston Republican's reimbursements from his campaign account.
The groups said Harrell has too much power and that people are not willing to stand up to him.
"There is a serious problem with the power of the South Carolina Speaker of the House. This particular speakers is an example of what happens when the power goes unchecked, and this is why we're up here because these questions need to be asked, precisely because the speaker of the South Carolina House has so much extraordinary power over virtually every function of government, all three branches," said Ashley Landess with SC Policy Council.
Last month, Harrell's spending came under fire after The Post and Courier of Charleston reported he had been vague in reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in reimbursements. Harrell said he did nothing improper, showing The Associated Press documents to back up his assertions.
"The bottom line is, we the public have a right to know the truth of what has happened, and as long as we have to depend on folks who are influenced by the very person that they are going to investigate we can not have the confidence," said Harry Kibler, with RINO Hunt.
Wilson's office has turned down an investigation request from John Crangle of Common Cause.
"As the state's chief prosecutor, this Office resolves matters in the public's best interest. There is an established record of our following the legal process. It must be given the chance to proceed as designed by law. That is what we will do in this instance," said a statement from Wilson's office.
The statement said state law authorizes the House ethics committee to investigate this kind of allegation relating to House members. It goes on to say that committee would decide on an alleged criminal violation, and could refer it to the Attorney General's office.
"For that reason it is premature for this Office to ask SLED to investigate this matter at this time. The process must proceed as prescribed by state law. Should the House Ethics Committee not act, this Office is then prepared to do what is in the public's best interest," said the statement from Wilson's office.
The group of organizations also called on Governor Haley to facilitate the independent investigation.
"The governor is focused on working to pass a strong and comprehensive ethics reform bill in the next legislative session - she is not focused on feeding a media frenzy about Speaker Harrell. We're confident the attorney general will act appropriately," said Haley's spokesman Rob Godfrey.
Harrell's office dismissed the request as misleading and politically based.
"It has been thoroughly demonstrated, and reported by media outlets statewide, that Speaker Harrell is in full compliance with all aspects of the Ethics Act. These political groups are attacking the Speaker for using privately raised campaign funds to pay for many expenses that could have been charged to taxpayers. In fact, the original newspaper to report on this issue has since printed several corrections to their original article admitting that they made false accusations," said Greg Foster, Harrell's Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Communications.
"It is clear that these political attacks are not about ethics laws, truth or facts. These attacks are serious - and seriously misleading," he said.