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SC GOP lawmaker settles 133 alleged campaign finance violations for fine, public reprimand

The State (Columbia, SC) logo The State (Columbia, SC) 5/5/2022 Zak Koeske, The State (Columbia, S.C.)

May 5—COLUMBIA, S.C. — An Upstate lawmaker who faced more than 100 ethics charges related to his use of campaign cash has settled the accusations with the South Carolina House Ethics Committee.

State Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Anderson, who is not seeking reelection, entered into a consent order with the committee at a brief hearing Thursday morning. Under the terms of the settlement, Hill admitted to 54 violations of the Ethics Act, including paying his mortgage with campaign funds. He will be fined $12,000 and receive a public reprimand, but has not been criminally charged.

Hill, a self-employed 37-year-old software engineer who has long been a pariah within his own party, came under suspicion early last year after his campaign disclosure reports turned up "red flags," including reporting negative balances in two campaign filings, according to House Ethics Committee documents.

An outside audit of Hill's campaign disclosure reports over a roughly three-year period turned up numerous alleged violations of South Carolina ethics code, documents show.

In March, the House Ethics Committee hit Hill with 133 ethics-related charges, including using campaign funds for personal expenses, failing to report contributions and expenditures, and failing to deposit contributions within 10 days of receipt.

Perhaps the most serious charge Hill faced involved his alleged use of campaign cash to make a $1,200 mortgage payment. Hill told investigators he made the payment in error and later reimbursed his campaign account for it, documents show.

Hill's lawyer, Tom Fernandez, previously told The State he thought the investigation into his client was unnecessary because there was no evidence any of Hill's campaign cash was missing.

"What this entire thing equates to are financial missteps, recording missteps by someone who is not financially trained," said Fernandez, who explained that Hill mistakenly used his campaign account to make an online mortgage payment and quickly corrected the issue after realizing the error.

The Ethics Committee ultimately found Hill had broken state ethics laws by using campaign funds for personal expenditures, but said the mortgage payment appeared to have been made inadvertently, according to the consent order.

The committee substantiated 52 of the 133 ethics charges against him, consolidated another 67 charges into two total charges and dismissed 14 of the counts for lack of evidence, the consent order states. Most of the dismissed counts involved an issue with Hill's third-party campaign fundraising site that he discovered and corrected prior to the audit, House Ethics Committee Chairman Jay Jordan said.

"Campaign finance activity must be properly disclosed as required by law," Jordan, R-Florence, said in a statement. "And this matter shows that messy bookkeeping that violates Ethics laws will not be excused or tolerated."

In addition to facing a fine and public reprimand, Hill also must correctly file all of his campaign disclosure reports and provide the committee all campaign account bank records within 30 days; file a final campaign disclosure report by Nov. 14; and donate any remaining funds still in his account at that time to the Medical University of South Carolina Foundation's Rena N. Grant Sickle Cell Center, according to the settlement.

Grant, who died in 2020, was a longtime staffer on the House Ways and Means Committee.

This story was originally published May 5, 2022 11:20 AM.

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

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