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SC GOP lawmaker hit with 133 SC ethics charges alleging spending, reporting violations

The State (Columbia, SC) logo The State (Columbia, SC) 4/6/2022 Maayan Schechter, The State (Columbia, S.C.)

Apr. 5—COLUMBIA, S.C. — An Upstate legislator in the South Carolina House faces 133 ethics-related charges for allegedly violating the state's campaign spending and disclosure laws that includes an allegation he spent campaign cash on a personal mortgage.

The State Ethics Commission on March 23 recommended 139 ethics violations against state Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Anderson, sending those recommendations to the House Ethics Committee. The legislative panel on Tuesday agreed with the commission's findings but voted to reject six of those violations after a roughly 45-minute private session, with plans for another hearing scheduled for Thursday morning.

Hill, who is self employed, attended the brief Tuesday hearing with his lawyer, Tom Fernandez of Summerville. The committee did not release details of the allegations against Hill until a few hours later.

"It's not that I disagree with the findings, I think the entire investigation is unnecessary," Fernandez told The State by phone Tuesday. "And, reason being, people who follow me know I am a transparency, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) hawk. And when you actually look through these reports and these counts, ... these violations, nowhere does it say any money is missing. There's no money missing anywhere. What this entire thing equates to are financial missteps, recording missteps by someone who is not financially trained."

In a short statement after the release of the violations, House Ethics Chairman Jay Jordan, R-Florence, said the committee identified the alleged violations from an audit of Hill's campaign bank account records and campaign disclosure reports.

Jordan did not further elaborate on the commission's findings in his statement.

The report said Hill agreed to a three-year voluntary audit — spanning from Oct. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020 — with an outside auditing firm, J.W. Hunt and Company, after House staff found "red flags" that necessitated further review.

Those "red flags," the report said, included that Hill reported negative cash on hand on two campaign disclosure reports.

The same report said that during the audit Hill was unable to provide "adequate documentation pertaining to certain expenditures, namely a personal mortgage payment made using campaign funds."

Fernandez said Tuesday that Hill mistakenly used his campaign bank account, which he said goes through the same bank as his personal bank account, to cover his mortgage payment.

"He was paying his bills out of an online bank portal, (and) he selected the wrong account and hit submit," Fernandez said. "And then, I want to say five days later, he noticed the error and quickly put the money back into the campaign account where he made the misstep, but he didn't document it because no money was missing."

Hill is not running for reelection in November, one of 13 House members retiring this year. Fernandez said the more than 130 ethics violations are not connected to Hill's retirement.

"After eight years in office, Amanda (Hill's wife) and I need a break," Hill said last month. "I'm not leaving politics and will continue doing what I've been doing outside of office."

The Anderson Republican has long been at odds with his own party. He's the only House Republican who is not a member of the House Republican Caucus after he was indefinitely suspended after publicly criticizing leadership, sharing private caucus conversations and posting lawmakers' cellphone numbers online.

In 2020, the South Carolina Republican Party backed another candidate, Vaughn Parfitt, to challenge Hill in a primary, but Hill won. In response, Hill sued the party and Parfitt over allegations the party spend beyond the state's legal spending limits. A South Carolina judge later threw out Hill's lawsuit.

And, last year, House leadership criticized Hill's "petty, vindictive, showmanship" after he stormed out of the House chamber and threw papers into the air after he missed an opportunity to introduce amendments to an abortion bill.

"I didn't hurt anybody. I didn't say anything," Hill told The State then. "I tossed some papers on the floor and that's all I did. And I did it to make a statement. I'm glad that wasn't lost on everyone that was watching."

This story was originally published April 5, 2022 3:46 PM.

(c)2022 The State (Columbia, S.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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