By Paul Gable
Sen. Vincent Sheheen got in the middle of the ethics reform debate in South Carolina with a letter to Sen. Luke Rankin, chairman of the S.C. Senate Ethics Committee.
In his letter, Sheheen, a Democrat who is expected to oppose Gov. Nikki Haley next fall in a rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial election, advocates stopping “constant abuses in order to clean up our state government.”
Specifically Sheheen advocates barring the use of the state airplane, state cars or any other state vehicles from being for political purposes including carrying political staff to events or for conducting fundraising activities.
Additionally, he proposes establishing a new, independent ethics committee to replace the current ethics commission and House and Senate ethics committees.
Other points in Sheheen’s letter propose establishing a five year period before former elected officials could become lobbyists and full income disclosure for elected officials.
Not much of this is very new. We already have state laws against using state vehicles and personnel for campaign purposes, although they are not enforced.
Haley recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with S.C. Ethics Commission executive director Herb Hayden and SLED chief Mark Keel that effectively allows her to use state vehicles and state personnel for campaign activities during regular business hours. The MOA has no legal basis, but she will use it as justification for her activities.
The House and Senate ethics committees should be disbanded. Allowing legislators to police themselves has been a joke at least since the Credit Mobilier Scandal over 140 years ago.
But, will anything change?
Probably not, South Carolina politicians enjoy the fact that they are bound by ethics laws with no real teeth and which no one enforces.
Why else do they spend tens of thousands of dollars, or more, to get elected to jobs that pay $10,400 per year?