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Ethics Charges Against Horry County SC Council Chairman Detailed

The case against Johnny Gardner is strong … but so is the case against South Carolina’s “toothless” ethics watchdogs.

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Chalk up yet another one for our incredible statewide network of sources … who continue to keep our readers one step ahead of the mainstream media. On Monday afternoon, this news outlet reported that the South Carolina State Ethics Commission (SCSEC) was moving forward with an investigation into Horry county council chairman Johnny Gardner.

Late Tuesday, this news was confirmed by The (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Sun News, which published a detailed report on the nature of the complaint filed against the embattled local politician – whose tenure has been marred by one scandal after another.

According to reporter J. Dale Shoemaker, SCSEC officials have “formally accused” Gardner of a variety of violations stemming from his victorious 2018 campaign for council chairman.

Specifically, Gardner is staring down six alleged violations – including “illegal campaign contributions and failing to report loans to his campaign.” A hearing on these charges will take place on August 19, 2021 – unless Gardner agrees to pay a fine prior to that date.

Sound familiar? This is exactly the “resolution” we predicted in our coverage of the investigation earlier this week …

“Our suspicion is Gardner is about to enter a protracted negotiation with the state over an appropriate amount for a fine,” we noted.

Is that a proper dispensation of accountability when it comes to these sorts of charges?

No. Unfortuantely, when it comes to illegal activity by our state’s politicians, the SCSEC is in the business of collecting fines in exchange for slaps on the wrists – not actually holding anyone accountable for their behavior.

“This entity is a toothless watchdog on its best day,” our founding editor Will Folks noted. “On its worst day? It is an enabler of the sort of financial chicanery that would make a mob boss blush.”

Don’t believe us? Consider the agency’s recent handling of a far more egregious campaign finance scandal …

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“(The SCSEC) has little in the way of real authority when it comes to enforcing campaign finance laws in the Palmetto State – and (it) has proven unable or unwilling to exercise the limited power it does have,” we noted in an editorial last year.

Of course, nothing about this sorry situation will change (meaning there will be no real accountability) until state lawmakers decide to pass tougher ethics laws … and impose tougher penalties for those who violate those laws.

Also, similar scandals will continue until prosecutors decide to go after the true source of the corruption … the wealthy, powerful special interests who are pulling the strings of the politicians.

The SCSEC isn’t doing that … but then again, neither is any other responsible law enforcement or prosecutorial agency in this state.

Sadly, though, we do not see anything changing in South Carolina anytime soon … barring some sort of earth-shattering scandal that forces the hands of those responsible for investigating and prosecuting public corruption.

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Anyway, back to Gardner (above) …

According to Shoemaker’s report, the scandal-scarred politician failed to report a pair of loans totaling $70,000 received by his 2018 campaign from the Anderson State Bank (ostensibly). He also is accused of failing to report an $8,700 contribution during the same campaign from his former business associate, Luke Barefoot. In addition to failing to report Barefoot’s contribution, Gardner is also accused of accepting a contribution from him greater than $1,000 – which is the limit for county council races.

He is similarly charged with failing to disclose a $1,200 contribution from a local developer, Randy Beverly. This contribution also exceeded the limit for his race.

The complaint against Gardner was originally filed by William Martin, a former political operative based in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

As we noted in our coverage earlier this week, Gardner – who campaigned as a self-proclaimed “people’s candidate” – cannot seem to keep his nose clean.


Readers will recall the 58-year-old defense attorney kicked off his tenure on the same day he was linked to an alleged extortion plot against local “economic development” officials (a scam which also involved Barefoot).

Gardner managed to avoid (ahem) criminal charges in connection with the economic development fiasco, but shortly thereafter he came under fire for failing to file statements of economic interest during his tenure in office.

As we noted at the time, Gardner’s failure to file these routine disclosure statements was especially troubling given his campaign’s dubious financing.

More recently, Gardner’s government has found itself embroiled in a major scandal involving the improper distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to county bureaucrats and their “designees.”

To read our report on that saga, click here …

Stay tuned … we will be sure to update our readers in the event Gardner agrees to a deal with SCSEC officials prior to his scheduled hearing in August.

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