UPDATE: Former Lexington One Board Member Sandra Backman dealing with SC Ethic’s Commission fine
Lexington, SC - 04/07/2021 (Paul Kirby) – Sandra Backman, a former member of the board of trustees of Lexington County School District One, appears to be on the hook for a substantial fine following impropriety with her campaign finances from years ago. Backman served on the school board from 2010 until 2018. In 2018, she did not run for reelection.
According to a complaint obtained from the SC State Ethics Commission (SCSEC), Backman not only misused some campaign funds and failed to file the proper reports, but she also failed to pay some necessary fees.
During the 2014 campaign season for school board, her first reelection bid, Backman was accused of misusing her campaign account. More specifically, it was alleged that she spent some of her campaign money on personal items at discount stores like the Dollar General, K-Mart, and at eateries like Applebee’s, the Hibachi Express, and Little Caesars’s Pizza. She also paid a nail spa at one point for a service rendered there. All of this spending was outside the scope allowed by SC state laws on campaign finance.
After this spending and campaign fund mismanagement came to light, the SCSEC charged Backman with two counts of failure to file a quarterly campaign disclosure report, a single count of failure to disclose expenditures on her campaign disclosure report, 10 counts of using her campaign funds for personal expenses, and seven separate counts of failing to maintain the appropriate campaign records. It was also alleged that she failed to disclose she had withdrawn approximately $13,000 from her campaign account according to the records from the SCSEC. She also was apparently unable to explain in detail what that cash was spend on. It might be interesting to note that a political campaign war chest that has over $13,000 in it for a local school board candidate is substantial. Many local school board candidates either self finance their campaigns or get by with small donations from family and friends that do not add up to a substantial amount. A war chest of this size would indicate she had substantial support for her candidacy as she served the people of Lexington School District One.
In 2018 a hearing was held on these charges. During that hearing, Backman was given an opportunity to explain the expenses and the violation. At the time, she said she had been experiencing some personal tough times and trials in her life. She also said she had been the victim of some financial fraud perpetrated by someone else, according to the records of the hearing. She also explained to the hearing officers that she had two banking cards, one for personal use and another for campaign use, that looked very much alike. Apparently, she felt the two were easy to get mixed up and she had mistakenly used the wrong card on occasion.
After making her argument in 2018, the SCSEC found against her and fined Backman a total of $15,000.00 for the multiple violations. This was a civil penalty of over $13,000.00 and an administrative fee of $1,250.00. They gave Backman 18-months to pay the fine and fee. If she did not do that, then a total fine and fee of $41,250.00 would be entered in the form of a judgement against her at the Lexington County Courthouse.
In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Backman said that she had been taking care of this over time. She said that when all this happened, she had lost several close family members and simply fell behind in her reporting and record keeping. "I did make a big mistake in ignoring it," she said. "I should have dealt with it when it first came up but it was such a stressful time."
Backman also wondered why this was being spread around at this point. The staff of The Lexington Ledger received the hearing records attached to a number of emails and messages over a period of about two weeks. "I feel that I'm being bullied by someone and they are doing everything they can to hurt me. This happened, it was all a mistake during a tough time in my life, and now someone will not let it go."
During Backman's years of service, Lexington School District One experienced tremendous growth as it still is. She served on the board, was a wife and mother, and held a full-time job during the entire period.