By RON AIKEN
Hiott also paid son as campaign manager while enrolled at USC
How can an elected official legally turn campaign money into a source of personal income?
In South Carolina it’s not as hard as you think, starting with hiring your family to work on your campaign and using your personal printing business for both your own campaign work and the campaign work of friends from your legislative delegation.
Or just be Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens, who does all three.
Hiott owns Hiott Printing in Pickens, a business he has spent $8,000 of campaign money on since 2010, the last purchase of $5,000 coming in March 2014, records show.
Hiott also has paid his son, Lander, for campaign work. In 2012, Lander received $600 for being Hiott’s “campaign manager” while Lander was still a student at the University of South Carolina. Hiott won his primary in a landslide and ran unopposed in the general election. Hiott went to the well again for Lander in August of last year, when Hiott paid his son $500 for “political campaign work,” according to his campaign disclosure statements. Hiott is running unopposed in 2016 in both the primary and general election.
As The Nerve previously has reported, other state lawmakers have been generous in their use of the small Pickens firm that has been in the Hiott family for decades. The business has no website, only a basic Facebook page with a phone number, no posts, seven ‘likes’ and two total visits (including the author’s).
Despite its humble size in comparison to the larger printers in the region, lawmakers have been loyal. Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, has been generous, spending $7,276 with Hiott Printing since 2008. And even Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, who from 2007 o the present has spent $50,272 on printing costs from nine different vendors, finally used Hiott in December with a $682.50 order. Rep. Bill Whitmire, R-Oconee, has spent $4,135 (2012).
No legislator has been as prolific in his spending with Hiott Printing, however, as former Rep. Don Bowen of Anderson. Unseated by Rep. Jonathon Hill (R-Anderson) in the 2014 primaries and a challenger to regain his seat in 2016, Bowen has spent a total of $53,782 with Hiott Printing, including $2,187 in 2016.
Even outside Hiott’s delegation, other lawmakers have gone out of their way to use Hiott Printing, including Rep. Carl Anderson, D-Georgetown, ($837.73 in 2012) and Rep. Sam Rivers, R-Berkeley ($7,319 from 2014-16), bringing the total amount of money invested by legislators in Hiott Printing to $82,032 since 2008 (the earliest year available online).
Paying family members, paying oneself and getting business from one’s legislative delegations is nothing new in South Carolina, nor is the practice even illegal.
Though state ethics law specifically bans using campaign funds for personal gain (Section 8-13-1348 of the S.C. Code of Laws), over and over the state Ethics Commission has held the position that as long as an elected officials don’t offer other legislators (or themselves) a better deal than the rest of the public, the practice is fine.
And almost as if a section of state ethics law were written specifically for Hiott, another section (Section 8-13-700) prohibits an official from “obtaining an economic interest for himself, a family member, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated.”
When contacted by The Nerve in 2015, Hiott said when he reached out to the Ethics Commission, he confirmed he was advised that no ethics law would be violated as long as he was fair.
On his statement of economic interests, Hiott claims no government contracts dating back to 2008, unlike fellow Pickens County delegation member Sen. Thomas Alexander, who has a host of government contracts with his family business, Alexander Office Supply. Hiott’s only claim for sources of government income are his legislative salary ($10,400), in-district expenses ($12,00), subsistence ($11,490.30) and his wife’s salary with the Pickens County School District ($47,000).
“I did some printing for myself, and I paid the company what it would cost,” Hiott said, adding that for other lawmakers, “It’s the same price I would give them what I would give to anyone else.”
Reach Aiken at (803) 254-4411. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken and @TheNerveSC.