By Paul Gable
A nationwide analysis of state governments released over the weekend ranked South Carolina 45th out of the 50 states for potential for government corruption. This, of course, only enforces what those of us who cover government on a regular basis already know.
Citing government secrecy, little accountability for legislators and the executive branch, weak ethics enforcement and little disclosure of legislators’ finances, the state received an F in nine out of the 14 categories studied and a D- in a 10th category.
The only areas where South Carolina received adequate grades were procurement, redistricting, lobbying disclosure and internal auditing.
The report was based on an 18 month study by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, two nonpartisan, good government groups based in Washington, D.C.
Grading each state on 3,300 categories in areas such as laws, enforcement, state budget and legislative, executive and judicial accountability, only five states finished lower than the Palmetto State – Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia.
In South Carolina, the problem of potential government corruption lies not only at the state level, but also has ‘trickled down’ to the local level.
One key area dear to the hearts of the media, Freedom of Information, found, “There is no agency that monitors the state’s Freedom of Information laws or monitors the state government’s compliance with it.”
For too long in South Carolina, the attitude of governments, both state and local, has been, ‘if you want the information and we don’t want to give it, sue us.’
The enforcement of legislation in the state has also, often, required private citizens and businesses to sue local and state government to get them to comply with their own laws. Quite frankly, the governments believe they can spend your tax dollars to prolong court cases to outlast you rather than adhering to the law.
Governor Nikki Haley continues to call her administration “the most transparent administration in state history” while drawing the ire of lawmakers, the media and the public over a host of non-transparency issues.
In a number of legal cases I have reported on, the apparent coordination between lawyers for public agencies and judges appointed by legislators is appalling. There have been too many instances where judges have issued rulings totally counter to laws on the books, denied due process and generally made a farce of the legal system in the state. This is especially true when a case pits the average citizen against a government agency.
The State Ethics Commission is considered to be underfunded, understaffed and lacking teeth to enforce ethics violations. Additionally, after Operation Lost Trust in the early 1990’s, the General Assembly took ethics oversight of legislators away from the commission, establishing instead ethics committees in both the House and Senate resulting in virtually no ethics oversight of legislators.
The General Assembly holds the pre-eminent position of power in government within the state. South Carolina has a very weak governor and judiciary appointed by legislators, not for legal acumen, but rather for political connections.
However, we get what we ask for in the state. Filing for state and local offices is now open for the June primary and November general elections. Watch how many incumbents at both the state and local levels remain unopposed when filing closes. What better way to allow corruption to continue?
For more information on the report, go to: http://www.stateintegrity.org/southcarolina_embedded_report