Originally created 07/20/02

Hodges accused of raiding fund



COLUMBIA - A leading state victim advocate says the governor's office pulled $1.8 million out of a fund set up to aid crime victims and used it to run other parts of the office.

Laura Hudson, the policy coordinator for the South Carolina Victims Assistance Network, is the most visible lobbyist around the Statehouse advocating for victim rights and tougher criminal penalties. She says Gov. Jim Hodges took the money out of the fund during the budget year that ended June 30.

"Wrong," says Hodges spokesman Morton Brilliant. The money left the victims fund last year because the Legislature ordered $1.8 million of its money to go to the general fund.

Ms. Hudson says she's referring to another $1.8 million taken from the fund. However, she says she cannot document that.

"What Hodges has been doing has resulted in lots of problems," Ms. Hudson said. "I think he sees the fund as his personal little pond."

The account likely won't have enough money to handle claims throughout the rest of this fiscal year, Ms. Hudson said.

Ms. Hudson has criticized the Democratic governor during the past week as he has aired campaign ads targeting former U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, his Republican opponent in the Nov. 5 election. One of the ads notes Mr. Sanford voted to kill the Violence Against Women Act in 2000. The ads say Mr. Sanford is wrong on that issue and "wrong for South Carolina."

Mr. Hodges also has been criticized lately for transferring $300,000 out of the Continuum of Care for Emotionally Disturbed Children into his office's operating account. Mr. Hodges said the transfer was necessary in the face of budget cuts.

Ms. Hudson said Mr. Hodges actions in transferring money hurt crime victims more than Mr. Sanford's vote. The domestic violence bill passed and reauthorized existing programs and increased spending to $3.6 billion.

Mr. Brilliant said Ms. Hudson is a Republican and is politicizing the issue.

"What's so disturbing about this baseless charge is that it's made by somebody who's neutrality has been pretty much discredited," he said. "It's disappointing such an important issue as domestic violence, where the governor has such firm accomplishments, is being used as football."