ALAN WILSON ACCUSED OF “BACKING OFF” OF INVESTIGATION INTO HOUSE SPEAKER BOBBY HARRELL
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has been slammed by a Palmetto political blog for his handling – or rather “non-handling” – of a major ethics scandal involving S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell (RINO-Charleston). The Nerve – a Columbia, S.C. blog run by the S.C. Policy Council – alleges that Wilson is “backing off’ of an investigation into Harrell’s shady self-reimbursement of more than $325,000 from his campaign account.
Rather than delving into the Harrell mess Wilson’s office is issuing “hands off” statements, according to The Nerve.
Harrell has basically admitted his guilt as it relates to at least some of this cash – returning more than $23,000 to his campaign fund shortly before news of the scandal was broken by reporter Renee Dudley of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier. Meanwhile Dudley’s original story has raised a host of unanswered questions that no mainstream reporters seem willing to answer.
Wilson says he wants that responsibility – which is why he’s proposed forming a “public integrity unit” within state government that would identify and prosecute violations committed by public officials. The young prosecutor also has some experience in taking down corrupt public officials – most notably former S.C. Lt. Gov. Ken Ard.
Wilson has disappointed some, though, by refusing to launch an independent investigation of S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley – whose flagrant violations of state ethics law were dismissed by her former colleagues in the S.C. House of Representatives despite the overwhelming evidence presented against her. Wilson has also not opened an investigation into serious campaign finance allegations against S.C. House Ways and Means chairman Brian White.
Why not? Because in South Carolina, state lawmakers have near-exclusive authority when it comes to investigating themselves (and their former colleagues). Legislation has been sponsored in the past by both Republicans and Democrats in an effort to change that, but lawmakers have refused to give up their monopoly on “accountability.”
With predictable results …
Dudley’s story on Harrell exposed the naked corruption of this system when S.C. Rep. Roland Smith (RINO-Aiken) told the reporter that he couldn’t “afford to talk” about the allegations against Harrell – let alone investigate them.
This is why crooked politicians like Haley and Harrell are still running our state (into the ground we might add) as opposed to wearing orange jumpsuits.
Even as he has slipped some of his ill-gotten gains back where they belong, Harrell has engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign attempting to clear his name and pin the blame for the scandal on the reporter who was investigating him.
Specifically, he has played the “blame the liberal media” card – attacking Dudley’s integrity not unlike S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley did a year ago when the young reporter challenged the governor’s taxpayer-funded travel expenditures.
So … can Wilson investigate either Haley or Harrell?
Technically he can investigate anybody he wants, although to impanel a statewide grand jury he must get the approval of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) chief – who is appointed by Haley.
Of course anytime there is clear (albeit ill-conceived) statutory language empowering the legislative branch of government to investigate and prosecute alleged crimes committed by its members, Wilson would run a legitimate risk by initiating such an inquiry against a sitting lawmaker.
And we’re talking about a legal risk … not just a political one.
Does that mean we think he shouldn’t investigate Harrell? No … we absolutely believe that he should. This case is begging for an independent overview, and Wilson’s office could provide just that. He should go in with both barrels blazing and force someone to make him stop. More importantly by investigating and prosecuting Harrell, Wilson could put some real teeth into his push for this “public integrity unit” – providing taxpayers with a preview of the sort of work this unit would do.
Unfortunately, we don’t see that happening – which in fairness is less a reflection on Wilson and more another example of the ridiculousness of expecting those in power to police their own branches of government. Until that law is changed, lawmakers (and former lawmakers) will continue to indiscriminately evade accountability for their actions.
UPDATE: Via its spokesman Mark Powell, the S.C. Attorney General’s office has issued the following statement to FITS related to this story: “The state Ethics Act requires the House and Senate Ethics Committees to investigate first before referring any alleged ethics issue to the Attorney General for review. Currently, our office must rely on other agencies to conduct investigations. We are working to change the existing investigation process through the creation of a Public Integrity Unit to be more proactive in looking into allegations of misconduct.”