- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The campaign of South Carolina’s top prosecutor is refunding $200 to a lobbyist who donated to his 2010 campaign and correcting campaign filings so that a legal firm didn’t appear to give the maximum donation twice, following notification from the State Ethics Commission.

Richard Quinn, campaign spokesman for Attorney General Alan Wilson, said Friday one of the $3,500 donations from Hall & Bowers, a legal firm that represents Republicans, should have been applied to debt from the previous cycle. The campaign is making the technical correction to Wilson’s disclosures for the 2010 race, Quinn said.

“Our campaign will continue to be transparent to the public regarding all campaign activity and will remain vigilant to comply with all ethics laws,” Quinn said.

Commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood said she notified the campaign about what appeared to be an excessive contribution. Hall & Bowers gave $3,500 - the legal limit per campaign cycle - in September 2010, January 2011 and September 2012, according to campaign filings.

Hazelwood also sent letters Thursday to Wilson and former state Rep. Joyce Hearn, who gave $150 to his campaign in November 2009 and $50 in March 2010. State law bars legislators and statewide officers from taking money from lobbyists, and Hearn was a registered lobbyist for the South Carolina Credit Union League both years.

The prohibition “goes both ways. A lobbyist can’t give, and a candidate can’t receive,” Hazelwood said.

Quinn said Hearn informed the campaign she was no longer a registered lobbyist when she gave. But Hearn disputed that, telling The Associated Press she didn’t realize she couldn’t give to a candidate for statewide office. She thought the prohibition was just on House and Senate members.

Though she doesn’t remember the details from four years ago, she said: “There’s no way I would’ve said I was not a lobbyist.”

“I was not aware it would be a major deal since I don’t lobby in front of constitutional officers,” she said. “The people I represented were before the Legislature.”

Her donations were first reported by the Charleston Free Times.

Hazelwood said whether Hearn was registered on the day she gave doesn’t matter anyway. Lobbyists can’t make a donation at any time during a year they lobby the Legislature, even if the job lasts only a day, she said.

Hearn, a House member from 1975-1989, worked as a lobbyist for the credit union league from January-May of 2009 and 2010, corresponding with the legislative session. She continued lobbying for the league through June 2013, according to her disclosures with the ethics commission.

Last March, Wilson’s campaign corrected his filings after a review by an independent accountant found $134,000 in previously unreported donations and expenses surrounding his 2010 win. His campaign chairman attributed the 68 donations and 16 payments to human error.

As attorney general, Wilson’s job includes prosecuting criminal violations of ethics law.

John Crangle, of the watchdog group Common Cause, has long argued the attorney general’s race should be publicly funded. Any attorney general taking private money from special interest groups is “fundamentally an invitation to corruption,” Crangle said.

“It shows at a minimum that some campaign staffer fumbled the ball,” he said. “It does cast a cloud.”

Wilson’s investigation into former GOP Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resulted in Ard’s resignation and guilty plea in 2012 to misdemeanor ethics violations. That came nine months after Ard paid a $48,000 fine to the state Ethics Commission.

In January, Wilson announced he’d sent ethics allegations against House Speaker Bobby Harrell to a grand jury, a month after receiving a report from the State Law Enforcement Division. Harrell, R-Charleston, maintains he’s done nothing wrong and said the announcement’s timing, the day before the legislative session started, appeared to be aimed at hurting him politically.

Wilson, also a Republican, is seeking a second term this year. As of his January ethics filing, he had nearly $635,000 cash available. Democrat Parnell Diggs opened his campaign in January with $500, according to his initial filing with the ethics commission.

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