Groups fight to get L-PACs out of State House

"At best, it has the appearance of impropriety," said John Crangle with Common Cause. "At worst, it's a corrupt process."

Crangle is talking about leadership political action committees, or L-PACs.  Common Cause, along with Senators Vincent Sheheen and Jake Knotts stopped L-PACs in the Senate last year.

Common Cause argues L-PACs are gateways to corruption.

"It's one of these deals where the independence of a legislator is suspect," said Republican State Senator Jake Knotts of Lexington County.

"When you have the ability to accumulate power and then accumulate campaign contributions and then dole that out to other legislators, then that could create problems that I think we ought to avoid right now," said Democratic Senator Vincent Sheheen of Kershaw County.

Ethics records show the Palmetto Leadership Council raked in the largest amount of money among legislator-involved L-PACs.

Since January, the Palmetto Leadership Council has taken nearly $176,000 from lobbyist groups. Groups that already give to the House Republican and Democratic PACs.

But lobbyists say when the speaker asks for money they feel compelled to give again.

"I am a pro-business legislator," said House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston County. "I support conservative groups. Whether Republicans or conservative, generally, and it's a conservative group supporting pro-business people."

If you look at the Palmetto Leadership Council's web pages, you would think it belongs to Harrell.  His name and image appear on the group's fundraising flyers, as well as every other page on the site.

But last March, Harrell told WIS he merely endorses the group and he has no other ties to it.

When WIS News 10's Jody Barr asked Harrell if he had any involvement, Harrell responded:

"When you start out throwing out words like you're throwing out, it really tells us kind of a predisposition of where a reporter is on an issue. On this particular issue, I am pro-business, I support pro-business entities. I support conservative candidates, generally."

State ethics records tell a different story.  In December 2006, the Speaker's brother founded the Palmetto Leadership Council.

During the first year the group took in nearly $200,000.

Since then, ethics records show John Harrell has turned the PAC over to at least two other people.

When asked that from a state Ethics Commission standpoint,  Harrell's brother founded the PAC, Harrell said it's one of many Republican groups he's supported.

"I said that I am very involved with a lot of Republican groups," said Harrell. "This one included."

"It's very much like a shakedown," said Crangel. "It is a shakedown in my opinion. And quite frankly, a lot of business interests are sick and tired of the constant demands for political money that come from the State House."

There is a bill in the Senate that would keep any member of the General Assembly from having any involvement with a leadership PAC, but the chances of that becoming law this year are very slim.

Harrell told WIS he also doesn't have any plans to change the rules to stop L-PACs in the house.

The group that changed the senate rules says it will keep fighting until L-PACs are out of state government.

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