Cindi Scoppe’s rather devastating column this morning on Bobby Harrell and the SC House

A few days ago, Kirkman Finlay, who is facing re-election to his House seat, started following me on Twitter.Finlay egg

I immediately saw that he could probably use some help with social media. His avatar is still, as Valentine Michael Smith would say, only an egg.

He could probably also use some help explaining to voters his bill, H.4453, which seems designed to help out Speaker Bobby Harrell by making the illegal things he’s been suspected of doing legal.

That bill suddenly started getting acted upon in the House as it became apparent that Harrell’s attempt to secretly toss Attorney General Alan Wilson off his case was doomed to fail.

But that’s just the beginning. You really need to read Cindi Scoppe’s remarkable column today, which tied together a web of House initiatives that seem reminiscent of the way Silvio Berlusconi’s legislative allies kept legislating him out of trouble, by making the illegal legal.

As I said, H.4453 is only the beginning:

Then, in the most audacious move to date, 85 House members last week filed H.5072, which would empower the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct State Grand Jury investigations into the attorney general and other “constitutional officers.” One of the initial sponsors — Wilson campaign attorney and Democratic Rep. James Smith — said that term also covers legislators, which means it would allow the speaker and president pro tempore to stop any attorney general investigations of legislators.

Of course the bill wouldn’t actually accomplish that because our state constitution names the attorney general as “the chief prosecuting officer of the State with authority to supervise the prosecution of all criminal cases in courts of record.” So the sponsors — led by Kris Crawford, against whom Mr. Wilson’s predecessor, Henry McMaster, brought tax-evasion charges in 2010 — also filed H.5073 to remove that language from the constitution.

If that passed, not only would the speaker and president pro tempore be able to stop any attorney general investigations, or initiate investigations into the attorney general, but the Legislature would be free to strip attorneys general of all power. The House unanimously agreed to bypass the committee process for both measures and place them on the calendar for immediate debate, an extraordinary thing to do for anything other than congratulatory resolutions and local legislation.

Let’s recap: I count five attempts in a year by Mr. Harrell’s friends to intimidate the attorney general or else quash first a SLED investigation and now a Grand Jury investigation. Which seems like a lot for someone who insists he hasn’t committed any crimes — or even violated any non-criminal provisions of the ethics law….

Wow, huh? (The boldface emphasis is mine.)

John Monk did good work recently revealing the move to get Wilson secretly tossed off the case. But this masterful column paints a picture of a pattern far more sweeping, and more disturbing, than that. It’s the kind of thing that reminds us why we have a First Amendment.

Good job, Cindi.

23 thoughts on “Cindi Scoppe’s rather devastating column this morning on Bobby Harrell and the SC House

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    And now, to say something nice… I was looking for a link to a campaign website or something for Kirkman Finlay, and ran across his Facebook page that he apparently hasn’t touched until right after the 2012 election. Here’s his last status update:

    Friends, I received a very nice call from Joe McCulloch today, who congratulated me on winning the race – a call that I deeply appreciated. In the midst of so much negative campaigning, I thank the McCulloch team for the clean race that they ran. Joe and I both agree that this has been one for the record books and we plan to work together to ensure that this election fiasco never happens again in Richland County.

    Thank you for all of your support over the last few months. Please know that winning this race was a team effort and you all have my sincere gratitude. I pledge to do my best to serve you and the State of South Carolina in the House of Representatives.

    So, I thought that was gracious.

    On the bad side, it’s a reminder that the Richland County election commission is STILL a mess, with June primaries bearing down on us.

    By the way, McCulloch is running against Finlay again this year.

  2. Doug Ross

    That’s the type of editorial I like to see… name names, lay out the evidence in a clear manner. it should be on the front page of the paper. Contrast that to Warren Bolton’s kid glove treatment of the parties involved in the South Carolina State University management.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, it’s a column and not an editorial, but I’m sure Cindi appreciates the sentiment. And this is the kind of piece in which naming names IS appropriate and entirely called for (as opposed to the SC State thing, which I see as being about more of a systemic problem). There’s a difference between the legislators trying to do this stuff and the ones trying to prevent them, and the sheep need to be separated from the goats.

      You may be gratified to know that The State IS prominently displaying the column on the homepage online….

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        What is the difference between a column and an editorial, when written by one of the two editorial editors, on her area of expertise?

        I am sorry that I am not shocked or devastated. A sorry state of affairs.

        Another sorry state: the full page ad for a “free” bag of US currency, for the low low fee of $99 for the ballistic(?) bag. How gullible do they think the readers of the paper are? Oh yeah, see above.

        I tried unsuccessfully to figure out which three counties’ residents are not eligible.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          A column is signed, and should be seen as the opinion of the person who signed it. In an editorial, the institution is speaking as an institution, and the matter of who wrote it is inconsequential.

          With Cindi, of course, you have a lot of original reporting and explication, but opinion as well. Her columns always contained far more reportage than mine. Mine were more about reflecting on things already reported by others, much as I do with the blog — although of course I did some legwork, to check things and get quotes. Cindi tells you substantial things that you didn’t know, and comments on them…

  3. Keith June

    Ms. Scoppes’ article was one of the best things I have ever read in the State! Her comparison to Berlusconi was brilliant and spot on. I must say following the trail of corruption was no small feat and required patience, detail and a good understanding of state law and politics. The cronyism and nepotism in South Carolina is amazing, sickening and disgusting. I’ m not sure how any leader in the state can look citizens in the eye with a straight face and I don’t trust that the legislature can police itself. The reality is we now have state legislature, the house speaker no less, that is more interested in taking care of themselves than governing. Sincere thanks to Ms. Scoppes for exposing lots of rats.

    1. Barry

      Does anyone out there not think that an Operation Lost Trust these days would capture about 30% of our elected folks in the general assembly?

      as a group – they aren’t respected at all.

      1. Silence

        I have been wishing/hoping for Operation Lost Trust Two – Electric Boogaloo for a while now…

        1. Doug Ross

          How can you lose something you never had?

          Thanks to not having term limits, the same corrupt people stay in office for decades.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    It’s interesting to see the variety of people that a piece like this brings together. I posted a link to this post on Facebook, and the first three people to “like” it were:

    1. Kevin Dietrich, a former business writer at The State who later worked for a time on The Nerve for the S.C. Policy Council.
    2. Stanley Dubinsky, professor of linguistics at USC
    3. Carol Fowler, former chair of the SC Democratic Party
  5. Lynn T

    Yes, naming names is appropriate, but the catch is naming the right names. H.4453 is part of a group of bills filed by Finlay that deal with various aspects of campaign finance (H.4452-4457). They were planned since last summer. H.4453 was intended to give the equivalent of a “warning ticket” for first offenses. (The other bills tighten up the criteria for legitimate expenses of office and update campaign finance transactions to reflect modern electronic banking. ) None of the bills were scheduled for subcommittee right away, but as Cindi notes they did make it to the agenda at a time when events were heating up in the Harrell case. Any legislator can tell you that you don’t necessarily control when (or even if) your bills are heard in subcommittee.

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    I’m surprised that this hasn’t drawn more comments to this point.

    In all these years of observing the State House, I can’t think of when I’ve seen a pattern anything like this. To quote Cindi’s nut graf again, “Let’s recap: I count five attempts in a year by Mr. Harrell’s friends to intimidate the attorney general or else quash first a SLED investigation and now a Grand Jury investigation.”

    And I wouldn’t have seen the pattern at all if not for Cindi’s good work…

    1. Barry

      Not much to comment on.

      I think most people expect this sort of stuff out of these folks (those named) – and the people that care are outnumbered by those that don’t care at all- which is most of South Carolina.

      As I’ve said before- the reality staring us all in the face is – most citizens of South Carolina don’t care how corrupt things get – they just don’t give a rip.

        1. Mark Stewart

          So your point is that the corruption has rotted the “core” and beaten down the citizenry to the point of servile fatalism?

          While the facts may be in order, I reject that viewpoint. Bully’s only get what people give them; y’all don’t have to keep giving. Cindi Scoppe certainly is not.

          1. Barry

            Reject what? That folks don’t care? Come on- you can’t be serious.

            How about this – listen to talk radio in Columbia any day of the week – listen for how many times anything in the general assembly is brought up or discussed ….. Hint- you’ll hear plenty about the IRS, taxes, – but you won’t hear a bit about Bobby Harrell or ethics charges at the state house.

            or go into your typical place of business and ask folks what they think about Bobby Harrell’s situation and you’ll likely get a response akin to ” I thought Harrell played for the Cardinals”

      1. bud

        Agreed. This is pretty cut and dried. Cindi has pretty much said it all. Harrell is being a bully. He’s abusing his power and he should be punished. Isn’t that obvious by now?

  7. Doug Ross

    And today brings an excellent follow up column by Cindi on Judge Casey Manning’s pending decision related to the Harrell case. I especially liked this part:

    “Surely Judge Manning recognizes those crucial distinctions between the two.

    Surely Judge Manning realizes that there is no legal theory under which the House or Senate Ethics committee or the State Ethics Commission trumps “the chief prosecuting officer of the State with authority to supervise the prosecution of all criminal cases in courts of record.”

    Surely Judge Manning knows, as Chief Justice Toal wrote in Thrift, that the “Judicial Branch is not empowered to infringe on the exercise of this prosecutorial discretion.”

    Surely Judge Manning understands that a ruling that quashes a Grand Jury investigation of the speaker of the House, based on bizarre legal theories that have no basis in the state constitution or statutes, would define his entire legal career. Indeed, would haunt him for the rest of his life.”

    Read more here:

  8. Brad Warthen Post author

    Joe McCulloch, the Democrat who’s running against Rep. Finlay — again — had this to say the other day about Finlay’s efforts with regard to this subject:

    House District 75 Candidate Joe McCculloch: Kirkman Finlay Wrong Again

    Columbia, SC – House District 75 candidate Joe McCulloch released the following statement in response to Representative Kirkman Finlay’s most recent co-sponsored legislation:

    “To those who are already dismayed, even angry, by the refusal to enact real ethics legislation – yesterday represents a new low. Representative Finlay along with others in the House introduced a bill (H. 5072) to prevent themselves from prosecution by the state’s Attorney General and allow prosecution of House and Senate members and other public officials only if the House and Senate vote to allow it, then they pick the prosecutor.

    This follows on the heels of another piece of legislation (H. 4453) from Representative Finlay which prohibits the criminal prosecution of a public official who, when caught misspending campaign funds, repays it within 30 days – a deal no one else gets in our state – 30 days to cure a crime.

    The South Carolina Constitution states “The Attorney General shall be the chief prosecuting officer of the state with authority to supervise the prosecution of all criminal cases in courts of record.” (Ar. V, Section 12.) This kind of corrupt “ethics reform” legislation is one of the reasons I decided to run again. If you see Representative Finlay, ask him ‘Why should you and your colleagues be treated differently from any other accused lawbreakers?'”


    1. Mark Stewart

      The politicians saw how effectively they modify DUI’s and Stand-Your-Grounds; who didn’t see them eventually getting around to excusing their own extra-legal behavior?

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