Pity poor, Bobby Harrell. There once was a time when he could use campaign cash to fly back and forth between Charleston and Columbia, and no one said a word. There was a time when he could use his PAC to curry the favor of his fellow lawmakers, and everyone just treated it as business as usual. There was a time when he could "lose" campaign receipts and blame on the dog — or in his case, an equally unacceptable excuse: an office move; now he can't. And there was a time when he didn't throw a hissy fit
when faced with a politically motivated attack — and make no mistake the attack against Harrell is politically motivated, as the speaker of the house charges.
For some, like the folks at the S.C. Policy Council, it's a politically motivated attack against a greedy, ethically challenged lawmaker by a group of people who've grown tired of greedy, ethically challenged lawmakers in Columbia. For others, it's a politically motivated attack against a greedy, ethically challenged lawmaker who isn't, well, them — and they're grateful for that.
And now, it looks like things have gotten just a wee bit worse for Bobby.
As you know, Harrell has been involved in a court battle with state Attorney General Alan Wilson. The AG maintains that he has the right to hold a grand jury investigation into alleged ethical, if not criminal, allegations that he used campaign cash for personal use. The speaker's camp insists that Wilson has no authority to investigate him — that's the House Ethics Committee's job — and if even if the AG does, Wilson isn't the guy to do it. One, he's motivated politically to take the speaker down — as for what AG's political motivations are, Harrell has never explained. Two, Wilson is ethically challenged too since he failed to report campaign donations — a failure which the AG's people have predictably called an oversight, an excuse that is only slightly more credible than Harrell's own.
Earlier the court released a truly moronic ruling that Harrell was above the law — and honestly, that's the only way to interpret Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning's charge that the House Ethics Committee — and the House Ethics Committee alone — could investigate the speaker. But on Wednesday, the state Supreme Court reversed that decision. Their ruling
: the AG could proceed with the investigation. However, they passed the buck back to a lower court to determine whether Wilson personally could oversee the grand jury investigation.
The State reports
In their opinion, the justices wrote the attorney general’s right to investigate crimes is not dependent on the legislative ethics committees’ process of investigating ethics complaints against lawmakers.
The House Ethics Committee’s authority to investigate ethics complaints against members “does not affect the attorney general’s authority to initiate a criminal investigation in any way, whether or not there is a referral, or even a pending House investigation,” the justices wrote.
The decision won praise from the government watchdog group that filed the complaint against Harrell with Wilson.
“The court did the right thing,” said Ashley Landess, president of the S.C. Policy Council. “We were looking at legislators beyond the law. The checks and balances worked.”
But Landess was disappointed the justices also said future hearings on matters tied to the State Grand Jury would be held in private. “Due to the secrecy afforded state grand jury proceedings, future arguments regarding jurisdiction, or any other ancillary matter, should be held in camera (in private),” they wrote.
As for where this all ends up, your guess is as good as mine. Honestly, I didn't expect the Supreme Court to side with Wilson — especially considering that Chief Justice Jean Toal reportedly owes her job to Harrell. But for now, I'm hopeful that the AG's investigation will proceed.