By Paul Gable
Gov. Nikki Haley’s Ethics Reform Commission continued its work yesterday with another public hearing soliciting comments on how to reform and strengthen ethics laws in South Carolina.
The commission is scheduled to summarize comments and testimony January 8, 2013 and draft recommendations. On January 22nd it will discuss final recommendations and written report with January 28th being the date the report will be presented to the governor, the General Assembly and the public.
This all sounds great, but it probably isn’t going anywhere. It will take legislative action by the General Assembly and we don’t see that happening beyond some minor, face-saving measures being passed.
Unless there is strong motivation for the General Assembly to change the current, weak laws that govern ethics in the state, it will not happen. And a legislative initiative from the governor will not provide this motivation.
It is ironic that Haley, herself exonerated of ethics violations by the House Ethics Committee in June, took the step to appoint a commission. The committee did not investigate the charges against her. Neither did it hear any testimony from Haley’s accuser or seriously consider the many exhibits he provided to the committee. She absolutely benefitted from the current system.
Any new bill to tighten ethics laws will need support from the legislative leadership or it will die on the vine. House Speaker Bobby Harrell was under media scrutiny two months ago for refunding himself, from campaign donations, over $300,000 in the last four years for expenses he said he incurred doing the business of the state.
Not only has Harrell failed to come under any scrutiny from his colleagues for these refunds, he was unanimously re-elected Speaker of the House last week. Does anyone seriously believe Harrell’s refunds will be investigated by the ethics committee?
There are no indictments or pending indictments against lawmakers as there were 22 years ago with Operation Lost Trust to spur legislative action.
It will take a serious grassroots movement demanding ethics reform for anything meaningful to happen. Such movements do not begin in the governor’s office.
In our opinion, this is nothing more than hype and sound bites for political purposes and that is why no meaningful action will be taken to tighten state ethics laws or the current procedures for enforcing them.