Ethics Reform Task Force Initiative

By Paul Gable

S. C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is reportedly moving ahead with ethics reform planning with a proposed public corruption task force for South Carolina.

Wilson met Wednesday with members of the House Republican Caucus Ethics Study Committee to outline his plans for a new Public Integrity Unit.

Wilson wants the General Assembly to pass new enabling legislation that would outline the duties, responsibilities and authority of the proposed unit.

These would be some of the same lawmakers who, after Operation Lost Trust, brought the investigation of ethics claims against legislators inside the General Assembly in the form of House and Senate ethics committees.

In the intervening 20 years, it’s hard to find one case where a legislator was found in violation of the state ethics law by one of these committees.

Just this year, we have seen the House Ethics Committee give Gov. Nikki Haley get a pass on what certainly seemed to be ethics violations during her time as a representative.

Even better, House Speaker Bobby Harrell appears to be getting a complete pass on even an ethics investigation for his use of campaign funds to reimburse himself over $300,000 in the last four years for ‘personal expenses associated with state business.’

At this juncture, the proposed unit would be made up of representatives from the AG’s office, SLED, Department of Revenue, State Ethics Commission and Inspector General’s Office.

Bad idea. Make it a completely separate, autonomous investigative organization or don’t make it at all.

The ethics committee already has the ability to refer ethics violations to the AG and nothing ever happens.

SLED was, is and always shall be the most politically sensitive investigative organization this side of the FBI. For that reason, it does not need to be included.

The DOR needs to concentrate hard on computer security of its own records and the ethics commission needs a state ethics law with some teeth in it before it can truly operate.

Maybe I’m too old and cynical at this point, but I don’t see any real change coming from this proposal. It’s just more smoke and mirrors in Columbia to make it appear real change is coming when the reality is it is not.

A demand for real ethics change must come from the citizens, not the bureaucracy in Columbia. If there is one thing a bureaucracy is good at doing, it is protecting itself. That’s what I see happening here.


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