- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Retiring state Sen. Ray Cleary apologized Monday for “sloppy bookkeeping” involving more than $50,000 in campaign donations over the last several years but says he never used a penny for personal expenses.

Members of the Senate Ethics Committee discussed behind closed doors how to fine or otherwise punish their colleague but took no vote.

Cleary, a 68-year-old fulltime dentist, said he delegated the filing of quarterly online reports amid his busy schedule but recognized it was his responsibility.

“I’m sorry I did not spend the appropriate amount of attention to my quarterly reports,” said Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet. “The person I had doing the reports I should have trained better, and it’s my fault.”

Cleary did not dispute the findings of an attorney and accountant hired by the committee.

According to the signed agreement, he violated six categories of ethics law, including underreporting donations, not reporting expenses, and lacking documentation for reimbursements. He also failed to properly refund his account $7,900 last year for a planned trip to Israel and Turkey for which he prepaid airfare, hotel and meals but ultimately didn’t take.

Many of the 32 separate violations from 2013 through 2015 were due to illegible or insufficient receipts to back up Cleary’s explanations, said accountant Tracy Amos.

According to the agreement, others were due to improperly reporting who received a check - whether it was written to a business or its owner. At least two violations are counted twice. For example, “handwritten notes” indicated he used a credit card to buy nearly $1,000 in November 2015 on staff Christmas gifts. The documentation was insufficient, and state law doesn’t allow direct payments from campaign accounts to credit card companies.

A senator since 2005, Clearly said he’s been particularly busy over the last several years with business interests outside of his dental practice. He did not seek re-election this year.

Cleary was chairman of Beach First National Bank of Myrtle Beach, which failed in 2010 amid the Great Recession. He said he tried for several years to save the bank, but when the housing market went bust, being heavily invested in beach real estate presented a major problem. A 2011 lawsuit over a fraudulent property appraisal also demanded his attention for several years, he said.

Still, he said, there is no excuse.

“I saw the ethics report as something I could delegate,” he said. “In hindsight, it was my responsibility to make sure those reports were done, and I dropped the ball.”

The committee’s options include publicly reprimanding him, requiring him to refund his campaign for disputed amounts and fining him up to $2,000 per violation. Those fines could be grouped by category or individually levied.

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