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Spokesman for SC AG Wilson says refunds correct mistakes in previous campaign disclosures

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina's top prosecutor has returned $50,000 since January in previous campaign donations that exceeded state limits.

Attorney General Alan Wilson's campaign spokesman said Friday the refunds are part of efforts to correct inadvertent errors in Wilson's quarterly campaign disclosures dating from his 2010 campaign.

"We hope all of our disclosures are absolutely error-free," said spokesman Rick Quinn Sr. "We've scrubbed them in an unprecedented way."

Wilson's latest disclosure, filed online late Thursday, shows he had more than $575,000 available toward his re-election bid as of March 31. That's after returning 28 donations totaling $71,350 over the quarter.

Refunds include $28,000 sent to the Children's Trust to give away all donations Wilson received from a once high-profile Lexington attorney who was sentenced last month for stealing more than $2 million from his clients. Richard Breibart and his law office gave Wilson a total of eight donations of $3,500 each — the state's per-election-cycle limit — between May 2009 and December 2011.

Breibart, indicted in September 2012 on charges of extortion and mail fraud, was sentenced last month to more than five years in federal prison.

Wilson wasn't alone in receiving donations from the Breibart, who gave nearly $48,000 total in his name and his office's to Republican and Democratic candidates between 2008 and 2011. But Wilson received the most.

"He made the decision to return all of that to avoid any possible appearance of any connection with a lawbreaker, as part of the attorney general's desire to make his disclosures error-free and of a higher standard than others," Quinn said.

A quirk in state law regarding when a donation can be applied to a primary runoff explains many of the donations that exceeded the per-cycle limit.

Runoffs are held two weeks after the primary. But when it comes to donations, the runoff cycle doesn't start until a week after the primary. Therefore, donors who already gave the maximum $3,500 toward a primary can't contribute again until the week before the runoff, according to the state Ethics Commission.

Two of the 15 refunded contributions explained by that quirk were from Breibart.

Quinn, a veteran of South Carolina politics, said even he wasn't aware of the seven-day rule. It doesn't make sense, he said, that donations deposited the day after the primary can't apply to the runoff cycle.

Other candidates in 2010 primary runoffs, including those for governor and Wilson's opponent, had excessive contributions because of the rule.

"Most people assume it's intended to apply to the runoff. You've got two weeks. A campaign can be depleted. You're in a big hurry to raise and spend money," Quinn said. "If people were aware, they'd have waited until the eighth day to make those deposits. I think anybody who did so, did so inadvertently."

Other donations refunded since January were previously reported by The Associated Press last month. Thursday's filing confirms the campaign refunded $200 to a lobbyist who donated to his 2010 bid and money to two companies whose contributions last fall put them over the limit for the upcoming election.

Last March, Wilson's campaign corrected his filings after a review by an independent accountant found $134,000 in previously unreported donations and expenses surrounding his 2010 win, which were attributed to human error of then-volunteer staff.

Quinn said Wilson should be applauded for hiring an independent accountant to go through his own disclosures.

The scrutiny comes amid Wilson's ethics investigation into House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, who maintains he's done nothing wrong.

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