Once again, the state of South Carolina’s largest newspaper is in the hot seat after it showed favorable treatment to an influential hometown politician. This time, The Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier removed a story from the internet which portrayed powerful S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell in a negative light.
Free press? Not in the Palmetto State, apparently …
According to the story (which was removed from the paper’s website mere hours after it was originally posted) Harrell’s political action committee paid a Charleston-based public relations firm at least $23,000 to promote one of his favored transportation boondoggles.
Here’s a screen grab of the headline as it appeared on Google News late Wednesday evening …
Of course readers who try to click on the story receive a “page not found” error message.
According to a report filed with the S.C. State Ethics Commission, Harrell’s PAC paid Rawle Murdy $23,207.52 for an “election expense,” although the firm has stated on the record that it does no such electoral work.
In fact one of the firm’s name partners, Bruce Murdy, specifically told reporters to “ask the client” when asked whether the work done for Harrell’s PAC was actually done on behalf of the controversial Interstate 526 project.
Ironically, news of the Post and Courier yanking this story from the web comes one week after Harrell’s PAC yanked its own website offline.
At the very least, Harrell’s PAC appears to have falsified its disclosure forms, and potentially violated campaign finance laws by spending PAC funds on a non-legitimate expense.
Sources close to Harrell declined to discuss the story with FITS. Meanwhile staffers at the Post and Courier also declined to respond.
Harrell is currently facing a host of ethical allegations. For starters he’s guilty as sin when it comes to the improper reimbursement of hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign account. In fact he’s returned $23,000 of the money – the equivalent of a bank robber returning to the scene of his crime and giving back a portion of his ill-gotten gains.
Most recently he was accused of applying improper pressure on the S.C. Pharmacy Board and the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (SCLLR) to take actions benefitting his pharmaceutical business.
The Post and Courier broke the Harrell reimbursement scandal, although its leadership quickly wilted in the face of pressure from Harrell – most notably an alleged threat involving the annual $13 million bribe the S.C. General Assembly gives the newspaper industry.
Pic: Travis Bell Photography, Travis Bell Photography