- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The Senate Ethics Committee has fined state Rep. Cezar McKnight $54,000 for failing to report campaign donations and expenses during his unsuccessful bid for the Senate last year.

The committee released Thursday a public reprimand of the Kingstree Democrat that orders him to pay the fines by Sept. 30. The violations stem from a special election last September. The order was signed by the 10-member panel Aug. 17.

“I think it’s heavy-handed. I think it’s very mean-spirited,” McKnight said Thursday of the order. “Effectively, what they’re penalizing me for is using my own money to finance my campaign.”

The 41-year-old attorney, who won a seat in the House last November, said he was the one who made the committee aware earlier this year of a problem with his campaign account.

“And then they slam me” and refuse a request to reduce the fines, he said.

According to the order, 2014 bank records show McKnight’s law office paid for at least 20 expenses of his Senate campaign, totaling $14,706, while four expenses totaling $2,992 were paid from his personal checking account. But neither those expenses nor seven others were reported in his campaign filings.

The committee fined him $1,000 each for those 31 unreported expenses.

The order notes the payments meant McKnight’s law firm far exceeded the $1,000 limit state law sets for donors in legislative races.

The committee also found that McKnight accepted 23 donations totaling about $9,400 for his Senate campaign that he instead reported as donations for his House race. He was fined $1,000 for each.

As an attorney, McKnight “reasonably should have known and appreciated the importance of maintaining adequate records of checks and balances on his campaign banking account,” the order reads. It also noted this wasn’t McKnight’s first experience with campaign disclosure requirements.

The Senate panel, which oversees the campaign filings of senators and Senate candidates, said McKnight still needs to pay $6,200 in fines related to his first unsuccessful bid to that chamber in 2012. The committee previously cited him for not filing campaign disclosures on time.

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