Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tough week for S.C. lawmakers: one federally charged, two under ethics investigations

Three turkeys looking for a pardon

Posted by Corey Hutchins on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 11:01 AM

click to enlarge The S.C. State House of Representatives - FLICKR USER RON COGSWELL
  • Flickr user Ron Cogswell
  • The S.C. State House of Representatives
It's generally assumed that if you're a public official about to face a public relations nightmare it's best to dump the news in advance of a holiday when folks might not be paying as much attention to the local news.

Well, this week in South Carolina there's been enough bad news about state lawmakers to stuff a Thanksgiving turkey the size of the Gaffney Peach.

Yesterday, news broke that Lowcountry Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Murrells Inlet, is facing federal charges related to the alleged illegal mislabeling of stem cells during harvesting. Goldfinch, who works in the biochemical industry, is brushing off the blame on an independent contractor who worked for him, though the lawmaker says he'll plead guilty to federal charges.

From his hometown paper The Georgetown Times.

“Unfortunately, the FDA regulations differ from state laws, and provide that partners, like myself, are responsible for their employees or independent contractors, regardless of knowledge or intent,” Goldfinch said. “Therefore, I will have no choice but to plead guilty, since I was a partner and did have responsibility for my wayward contractor.”

The U.S. Attorney's Office in the southern district of Texas charged Goldfinch today. 

Meanwhile, in Columbia today, the House Ethics Committee will hold a hearing into whether Spartanburg Democratic Rep. Harold Mitchell converted campaign funds for his personal use. The lawmaker's attorney has said Mitchell might be a sloppy bookkeeper, but he's no crook.

From The Post & Courier:

Prosecutors filed the complaint while reviewing his criminal case on tax evasion charges. Mitchell pleaded guilty last November to misdemeanor charges of not filing his 2007 and 2008 returns on time.

But that's not all.

The same ethics panel yesterday voted that it had probable cause to investigate whether Upstate farmer and Spartanburg Rep. Bill Chumley abused the state's ethics laws when he gave a conservative pundit a free ride on the state plane.

Chumley authorized about $6,400 in public money to whisk right-wing radio host Walter Williams from Washington, D.C. down to a hearing in Columbia so he could testify in favor of a bill to nullify the federal Affordable Care Act in South Carolina.

From The State:

Democrats accused Chumley of using the state plane for political purposes. But Chumley said it was official state business to have someone he said is an expert testify about legislation before a House subcommittee.

Chumley said Tuesday night he was not aware of the House Ethics Committee’s decision – “It would be nice if they would let me know,” he said – and he defended his use of the state plane, saying he followed the law.

“I feel like I did everything that I was supposed to do before I did it, and I think it was the right thing to do,” he said.

It sure must be a fun time for Lexington Republican Rep. Kenny Bingham who holds the job of House Ethics Committee chairman.

But not really, says the panel's former chairman, GOP Rep. Roland Smith, a retired postal worker from Aiken. For his part, he's relieved not to have the job right now. 

“It's a burden,” he told the City Paper.

Asked about all the bad news coming right before a holiday, Smith said the committee had probably been looking into the separate allegations for some time. 

“It's disappointing to see all of that happening," he said. "It's obviously a difficult time, but the committee is looking into it and I'm sure they''ll do what's right.”


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Which turkey should get a pardon?

  • Rep. Stephen Goldfinch
  • Rep. Harold Mitchell
  • Rep. Bill Chumley
  • Fry 'em all

View Results


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