Ethics Reform – Not So Fast

S.C. Ethics Commission Limits Freedom of Information

By Paul Gable

Earlier this week, the S.C. Ethics Commission moved to restrict information flow to the media from agency personnel.

An announced new policy limits press inquiries and responses to Executive Director Herb Hayden taking the ethics commission attorney and deputy director out of the loop.

The new policy was announced by S.C. Ethics Commission chairman James Burns, a Gov. Nikki Haley appointee, during a commission meeting.

South Carolina ranks 50th among the states in government transparency, a position it works very hard to maintain.

While Burns claimed to media he was a “very strong advocate for being open, being transparent”, the new policy does exactly the opposite.

Limiting media contact to just one person increases the “spin” and slows down response times. Especially when that one person is appointed by the nine commission members who are all appointed by the governor.

At least on the surface, this move appears to be retribution for an incident involving Haley last summer.

Haley was attending a political gathering in North Carolina when her state owned vehicle was involved in an accident. Ethics commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood sent a letter to Haley requesting her campaign to reimburse the state for costs associated with Haley’s security detail which went to the event along with Haley campaign staffers.

Shortly thereafter, Hayden reversed the request after determining that Haley did not attend a political event, merely an event where her campaign collected nearly $40,000 in donations.

Subsequent to Hayden’s determination, Haley, Hayden and SLED director Mark Keel entered into a Memorandum of Understanding of how Haley would reimburse the state in the future for such occurrences.

There is no legal basis for such a document, but it exists in Columbia today.

With this new policy on the outflow of information from the ethics commission, it is doubtful details of such a trip would become public information.

It’s a great day in South Carolina.



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