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Ethics charges against state comptroller officially dismissed

COLUMBIA (AP) — Ethics charges have officially been dropped against South Carolina Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, according to an order issued by the state Ethics Commission.

“After carefully considering argument of counsel and reviewing the written submissions, the Commission concludes that the facts alleged in the Complaint do not constitute a violation of the South Carolina Ethics Act,” Commission Chairman Phillip Florence wrote in the order issued Friday.

Last week, the commission held a hearing over allegations that Eckstrom, now in his third term as the state’s chief accountant, broke ethics law when he used $1,642 in campaign money for gasoline, food and a hotel stay during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., at which his girlfriend was an alternate delegate.

Eckstrom had previously attended several GOP conventions in an official capacity, subsequently reimbursing himself from campaign funds, as is permitted under state law. On Wednesday, his attorney argued that the 2012 trip was no different, saying Eckstrom — though not an elected delegate — was still conducting political business, both as a South Carolina official and also a likely Republican candidate for future political office.

“He attended all of the events,” Mitch Willoughby told the panel. “He didn’t travel to Florida to go to Disney World.”

The commissioners ultimately agreed, voting 4-2 to dismiss charges. Commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood had argued that since Eckstrom played no official role at the convention or any of its associated events, his trip was tantamount to nothing more than a vacation.

It marked the second time allegations of ethical misconduct have been dropped against Eckstrom. During the 2006 campaign, he used a state minivan and paid for fuel with a state-issued gas card on a 2004 family vacation to his native Minnesota, which he called a “mistake in judgment.” He reimbursed the state $669, and the state Ethics Commission investigated and found no wrongdoing.

Eckstrom has until Sunday to file for re-election to a fourth term as comptroller general.

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