An Ethics Mess in South Carolina

Titanic struggle between House speaker and attorney general a revealing symbol of the Palmetto State’s tortured history

Nickki Haley

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley gives her 2012 State of The State address to the joint session of the legislature as Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell looks on, at The Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. Mary Ann Chastain/AP


By Corey Hutchins, Center for Public Integrity

On a recent Thursday, a light rain was washing against the office window of South Carolina’s first-term attorney general, Alan Wilson. On the floor near his desk, about a dozen thick black binders spilled out of the bottom shelf of a bookcase and onto the carpet. Inside each of them: supporting documentation from a 10-month state police investigation into the sitting House speaker, Bobby Harrell, a fellow Republican and arguably the state’s most powerful politician.

“And that’s just a preliminary investigation,” said Wilson, gesturing to the pile.

The attorney general will not say what’s inside the binders, and no one outside a handful of lawyers, prosecutors, law enforcement agents and grand jurors who are sworn to secrecy have seen what’s in the report. The speaker of the House himself hasn’t seen what’s in it either, although he’s called for Wilson to release the voluminous file to the public, maintaining he’s done nothing wrong and decrying the grand jury probe as political in nature.