Charlie Lybrand, the Charleston County Register Mesne Conveyance, has been formally charged with an ethics violation regarding the use of government personnel or facilities for campaign purposes, by the State Ethics Commission.
The case stems from a complaint filed with the Ethics Commission by Brady Quirk-Garvan, chair of the Charleston County Democratic Party, claiming Lybrand, a Republican, used taxpayer resources during his political campaign in 2014. Specifically, the commission claims Lybrand violated rules prohibiting the use of government equipment in an election campaign by including his office telephone number on a campaign fundraising letter.
In a statement released Thursday, Quirk-Garvan wrote, “It is appalling that taxpayer money was used to re-elect Mr. Lybrand to a cushy six-figure job with the county.”
Quirk-Garvan says his case against Lybrand began as things were heating up during last year’s election season. According to Quirk-Garvan, word began to spread that Lybrand was using his elected office to assist in his re-election campaign, which is strictly prohibited.
Lybrand said he was shocked when he first heard about the allegations against him and sees Quirk-Garvan’s actions as nothing more than political rock-throwing.
According to Lybrand, he’s been using similar versions of the letter in question since 1998, and they have always listed both his home and office phone numbers.
“In 1998, that letter went out not as a generalized mailer, but to my friends with a self-addressed envelope, looking for a donation to my campaign,” he said. “Every four years, this letter went out to friends. After this last election in 2014, the hyphenated fella [Quirk-Garvan], he decided that this was a terrible violation of the ethics law that this letter that had been going out for the past 17 years had an office number on it.”
Lybrand says he has spoken with the chief attorney at the Ethics Commission and admitted what he did was a violation. According to Lybrand, he’s willing pay whatever fine he negotiates with the commission, but that may not be enough to satisfy those who sparked the case against him.
“To me, the actual punishment is less important than that he’s held accountable for his actions,” said Quirk-Garvan. “And hopefully it sends a message to other elected officials that you cannot use taxpayer resources on your re-election efforts. That’s unethical and wrong.”
This isn’t Lybrand’s first run-in with Quirk-Garvan during his more than 24 years working in county government. Last September, the City Paper reported on “slush-fund” allegations made against Lybrand and his office. Quirk-Garvan and Patrick Bell, Lybrand’s Democratic opponent in the last election, raised concerns regarding the RMC’s overage account and lack of oversight on the part of the county.
The account houses funds from those who pay slightly too much for the office’s services, such as recording land titles, deeds, mortgages, liens, and other documents related to property transactions throughout the county. Overages of less than $5 apiece are deposited into the account — money which was used by the office for refunds, to help customers whose payments came up a few dollars short, and to purchase flowers for employees on special occasions. Those who overpay are notified that the RMC office retains any recording fee overages of $5 or less and customers can request a refund.
Following these allegations, the county’s internal auditor carried out the first examination of the overages account since it was created in 1978. The audit failed to uncover any wrongdoing on the part of Lybrand, but changes were made to ensure an annual audit on the overage account and greater transparency.
In Lybrand’s opinion, the most recent case made against him is just the continuation of a grudge following last year’s election, saying, “Losers can’t stand winners.”
“It’s not oversight when ethical issues come up multiple times,” Quirk-Garvan says. “I think this is just a guy who got used to being in office and figured everything was his.”
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