Capitol Gains

Published — December 15, 2016 Updated — December 16, 2016 at 5:10 pm ET

South Carolina legislator indicted in ethics probe

Capitol Gains series highlighted his business dealings with lawmakers


A prominent South Carolina legislator highlighted in a 2015 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and The Post and Courier was indicted Wednesday on 30 counts of ethics violations.

S.C. Rep. Jim Merrill earned more than $215,000 since 2008 from fellow lawmakers, who in many cases simply described the Republican’s public relations work as “campaign expense,” “consulting” or “mail.”

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, was suspended from office after news of the grand jury indictments, which stem from a broader and ongoing Statehouse corruption probe. He is accused of using his communications company to profit from groups with legislation at stake.

The joint reporting project, Capitol Gains, had highlighted how Merrill earned more than $215,000 since 2008 from fellow lawmakers through that company, Geechee Communications, for providing services the lawmakers described vaguely in campaign disclosures as “campaign expense,” “consulting” or “mail.”

Some of that money was paid when he served as House majority leader. Common Cause in South Carolina had said such transactions created greater opportunities for conflicts of interest to arise because the leader functions as the right hand of the powerful House speaker to mobilize votes.

In 2015 interviews, Merrill said he saw nothing improper about accepting business from fellow House members while serving as one of their leaders. In his view, the post carried very little power. And he said that most people tend to take their business to people they know. “My job just happens to be direct mail,” he said.

The indictments address business allegedly conducted with trade associations and companies that had pending bills and various political groups, not lawmakers’ campaigns. According to the charges, some of the business was not disclosed as it should have been in campaign filings.

Read more from The Post and Courier on Wednesday’s indictments.

Read the original series.

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