Nov. 12, 2015: This story has been corrected.
South Carolina ethics laws require candidates to describe how they spent their campaign money. Here are some examples:
- In July 2012, Sen. Kent Williams, D-Marion, spent about $800 at Best Buy, pegging the purchases as “unknown.” In an interview, he said that he bought an iPad for everyday legislative purposes.
- Over four years, Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, spent $2,300 on an American Express card, listing the expenditures only as “office.” He didn’t respond to requests to view these receipts.
Time and again, state legislators and candidates cloaked their campaign expenses in vague terms that gave the public no real idea of what the money bought, an investigation by The Post and Courier and the Center for Public Integrity found.
Lawmakers often used one- or two-word explanations, such as “supplies,” “transportation,” “campaign expense,” “expense reimbursement,” “fee” and “incidentals.”
One result of this lack of transparency is that the public must go to the legislators and candidates directly if they want more details.
Then it’s up to these candidates to decide whether to release this information.
When presented with opportunities to do so, some declined. Since 2009, Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Columbia, gave at least $73,000 in campaign money to his wife, Ginger, records show. His campaign disclosure forms described at least $39,000 of those expenditures with terms such as “reimburse see receipts” and “see receipts” or simply the letters “FR.” Huggins said his wife handles some of his campaign work. “If I can’t trust my wife, who can I trust?”
When asked if he would produce those receipts, Huggins declined, saying, “I’m not going there. You’re not on the Ethics Committee.”
Huggins said he tries to be as specific as possible about the expenditures. And some of his disclosure forms bear this out. He listed $150 spent on “8 cases of beer” from Budweiser on June 22 this year and $150 on “california rolls, crab rangoons, dragon rolls, fortune cookies” from Miyo’s restaurant in Columbia on June 25, 2013.
He said that he thinks ethics laws could be clarified, and that making receipts available online might be one option. “Then it would be clear cut. Then you’ve got it,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to distrust me.”