SC Ethics Panel Hears Rep. Mitchell Campaign Fund Case -

SC Ethics Panel Hears Rep. Mitchell Campaign Fund Case

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House Ethics meeting Tuesday to decide whether state Rep. Harold Mitchell misused campaign funds. House Ethics meeting Tuesday to decide whether state Rep. Harold Mitchell misused campaign funds.

Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, went before the House Ethics Committee Tuesday at the Statehouse to answer charges that he used campaign money for his personal benefit. The committee heard evidence but will not make any decision until a later date. It could dismiss the charges, reprimand him, or recommend that he be expelled from the House.

Mitchell pleaded guilty last November to misdemeanor charges of not filing state tax returns for 2007 and 2008. When prosecutors were looking into those charges, they came across evidence that led to the ethics charges.

Attorney Bobby Stepp, from an independent law firm that was hired to compile the evidence, presented the case to the House Ethics Committee. He said there were three categories of allegations: that Mitchell may have used campaign money for personal expenses; that he improperly transferred money from his campaign account; and that some of his contribution reports did not correspond to account expenditures.

For example, Mitchell had three withdrawals of more than $1,000 in December of 2008. He says it was for a family that had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina to stay at the Extended Stay motel in Spartanburg. A member of the family confirms that story, and Mitchell has a receipt from Extended Stay.

But there were also several checks made out to his wife. Mitchell says they were for gas used while campaigning, but he has not given the receipts to the committee.

Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, told Mitchell that state law requires candidates and elected officials to keep receipts for cash payments made from campaign accounts, but Mitchell has not given any of those receipts to the committee.

He also wondered why Mitchell withdrew $400 to pay his cell phone bill in cash instead of just writing a check to T-Mobile. Mitchell said after the hearing, when asked about his habit of paying bills in cash, "I just kept up with, you know, making a withdrawal, you make your payment, you have your receipt. So that's what I used to make my, you know, paying the bills was just cash."

He says he’ll get his campaign receipts and turn them over to the committee.

A forensic accountant who went through Mitchell’s finances told the committee that it did not appear that Mitchell received any improper personal benefits from his campaign account.

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