S.C. Ethics Reform? – Don’t Bet On It


By Paul Gable

The South Carolina Commission on Ethics Reform, appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley late last year, released its recommendations to tighten state ethics laws Monday.

Some of the recommendations should be considered no-brainers, such as: (1) Disclosing all private sources of income, and identifying all “fiduciary” positions, or positions of trust, held, whether compensated or uncompensated; (2) banning leadership PAC’s; (3) expanding the definition of lobbyists and lobbyists principals and increasing their annual fee and (4) strengthening public corruption laws.

It would seem that number (1) with regard to sources of income would be the most important. From outside interests of lawmakers and other public officials corruption generally rises. However, don’t hold your breath waiting for that provision to become law.

The report allows House and Senate Ethics Committees to remain in place with continuing confusion about just which alleged violations they should investigate.

The report also supports the creation of a Public Integrity Unit inside the Attorney General’s office. This seems to be adding another layer of bureaucracy to ethics investigations and another area where political considerations can be injected into the investigative process.

Freedom of Information laws were addressed with recommendations to shorten the response time, decrease costs and eliminate the exemption for lawmakers from FOIA requests.

More sunshine on the legislative and governmental processes? Hard to imagine!

One of the current ploys of public agencies is to charge outrageous fees or deny FOIA requests knowing such actions will discourage 99 percent of the public. Another favorite is the use of executive sessions to hide discussion of controversial issues from the public.

The only recourse for citizens at this point is through the courts at their own expense to get information about how public money is being spent or other issues are being resolved.

The S.C. House Ethics Committee agenda for this week included three items – Call to Order, Executive Session, Adjourn. Does anybody expect legislators to change these types of actions voluntarily?

For any change to occur in ethics laws or the ethical conduct of public officials and agencies, the General Assembly will have to pass new legislation.

Therein lies the rub. For any change to occur in state ethics laws, the momentum for change will have to come from the public, not from commissions or other groups appointed in Columbia. It makes good press, but it doesn’t work.


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