Ethics Reform – Not So Fast

Ethics Reform Obstacles in S.C. House

By Paul Gable

It looks like ethics reform during the upcoming session of the S.C. General Assembly will go down the same black hole as the last couple of years’ efforts.

The main reason being South Carolina legislators really don’t want to reform themselves.

During a meeting of the House Ethics and Freedom of Information Study Committee last week, the mentality of what seems to be the majority of legislators came to the fore.

What seemed a ‘no brainer’ provision of possible ethics reform, eliminating the use of campaign funds for legal defense funds against ethics complaints, appears to run counter to a majority of the committee’s wishes.

According to a story in The State newspaper, former Speaker Bobby Harrell legally used $113,000 from his campaign fund account to defend himself against ethics charges, some of which included misuse of campaign funds.

The entitlement mentality that seems to infect a vast majority of elected officials, apparently justifies, in most of their minds, the use of campaign funds for virtually any use the elected official desires.

The committee members could only unanimously agree on not allowing campaign funds to be used to pay legal fees after a House member was convicted of ethics violations. Up to that point, a majority of committee members favored continuing to allow legislators to use campaign funds for legal fees.

Isn’t it possible that not allowing campaign funds to be used to pay legal fees to defend against ethics complaints would result in more ethical behavior by legislators?

That consideration never seems to enter the discussion. What legislators are apparently concerned about is not having to use their own money to defend themselves.

Can we really expect ethics reform from this mentality?


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