County Council chairman candidate Howard Barnard received a campaign contribution from then-interim County Administrator John Weaver during the second round of the finalist interviews for the administrator position.
According to Barnard's Statement of Economic Interest filed at the beginning of April, Weaver wrote a check for $500 to Barnard's campaign on March 9, less than a week before the council interviewed Weaver and another finalist for the position. Weaver, who previously served as the county's attorney, said he researched whether the contribution was legal.
"He is my county councilman. I live in his district. He is a retired military officer as am I [retired fropm service]. He has a son who has gone to The Citadel, as have I [graduated from the Citadel], and he is a leader on council," Weaver said. "I chose to do that of my own accord. I considered any ethical concerns that might have given for either of us. After reading the laws in the code of ethics, there was no violation on my part ingiving it and none on his part for accepting it. I feel completely sound in the decision both politically and ethically."
Staff at the S.C. State Ethics Commission said the contribution did not break any of the state's campaign finance laws, and no complaint would be filed. Commission Director Herb Hayden said more proof would be required to suggest wrongdoing.
"There's no prohibition of that in the law. Does it give the appearance of impropriety? Certainly," Hayden said. "Any time you give money to someone that holds a position that affects another person ... there's an appearance of impropriety."
According to the S.C. State Ethics Commission's contributors list, Weaver gave one contribution so far this election cycle to Barnard's campaign. He did not donate money to the other five council members who voted for him during the administrator search, two of whom are not up for re-election this year. One of the remaining members has no opponent, and two others are facing challengers in the general election. Barnard will face Myrtle Beach tax attorney Tom Rice in the Republican primary in June.
Weaver gave five contributions in 2007 and 2008 to local candidates for lesser amounts, according to commission records. He gave $100 to S.C. Rep. Thad Viers, $100 to S.C. Rep. Tracy Edge, $100 to Horry County Coroner Robert Edge, $200 to S.C. Rep. George Hearn, $100 to Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland for her state senate campaign and $200 to the S.C. Realtors political action committee.
Barnard said the contribution did not affect his vote for the administrator position, saying he had supported Weaver during the first round of the search in November that ended in a 6-to-6 deadlock vote between Weaver and another candidate.
Hayden said there are sections of the finance laws that address contributions from someone involved in a contractual agreement, but he said those sections apply to the procurement process, not the hiring process.
"That section does not apply to political contributions unless the contributions are conditioned upon a vote or upon return actions. Proving any kind of bribe is hard without any kind of tapes or evidence because the person could contend that they were planning on giving a contribution anyway," Hayden said.
Barnard said he consistently supported Weaver throughout the search process and before he announced his candidacy.
"I sent invitations for a fundraiser to everybody in the community who had donated money to Republican candidates," Barnard said. "Mr. Weaver, who is a constituent of mine, is one of the people who I sent an invitation to. I sent invitations to people who work in the county, and some of them attended as well."
"Those contributions are on my site, and there is nothing wrong with accepting that money. It did not influence my vote in the same way that if anybody else who spoke before council would have given me a contribution, it would not influence my vote on council matters," he said.