Ethics Reform – Not So Fast

Another Ethics Reform Failure

By Paul Gable

There is no ethics reform this year for South Carolina politicians because the S.C. Senate wasn’t interested in changing the way the ethics of its members is monitored.

Last summer, Gov. Nikki Haley ran around the state, accompanied by Attorney General Alan Wilson, trumpeting the need to tighten ethics laws in the state and overhaul the way in which ethics oversight is accomplished.

That no bill was passed in the General Assembly this year says everything that needs to be said about the way in which the state is governed.

The 1895 Constitution, which governs the state, places all real power in the General Assembly. If it doesn’t want to act, no force on earth can make it.

Major provisions in this year’s ethics reform bill proposed to have legislators disclose at least the source of all their income; close loopholes in campaign financing and PACs and place ethics investigations and oversight in the hands of a third party agency.

Instead, the General Assembly wants to keep the current House and Senate ethics committee, which provide virtually no oversight of members.

Yes, Sen. Robert Ford of Charleston resigned his office during an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, but you can look at him as a sacrificial lamb before the altar of no real ethics reform rather than an attempt to make legislators responsible for their conduct.

You only have to look back to the farcical investigation of Gov. Haley last spring, by the House Ethics Committee, to see how seriously the House and Senate ethics committees investigate possible misconduct by their respective members.

The current ethics oversight structure in the state was established in the wake of the Operation Lost Trust sting in the late 1980’s. It was established with the attitude of never again will politicians, especially members of the General Assembly, be subjected to ethics investigations they can’t completely control.

Nothing has changed. The General Assembly sits as the supreme law of the state and has no intention giving away any of that power.

Local and state government agencies will continue to have to swear fealty to the General Assembly and the ethics and politics of state legislators while remain stuck in the 19th Century. Or is it the 13th?

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