Ethics Reform – Not So Fast

Watered Down Ethics Reform Bill Nears Approval

By Paul Gable

A very watered down ethics reform bill was reported out of conference committee Wednesday and received an overwhelming vote of yeas in the S.C. House yesterday.

The bill must be approved by the Senate before going to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk for signature.

But, the key measure needed for real ethics reform in South Carolina was left behind by the conference committee.

South Carolina’s legislators just can’t allow themselves to be at the mercy of an independent ethics commission, so the House and Senate Ethics Committees remain as the investigatory bodies for the state’s legislators.

Therefore, the S.C. Ethics Commission will continue to oversee all local and statewide elected officials while oversight of members of the General Assembly will remain in the hands of their friends.

Short of the occasional bout of political retribution, those committees have shown themselves to be unwilling, unable or both of finding their peers in violation of the state’s modest ethics laws.

There are some interesting provisions in the reform legislation approved by conference. Elected officials and candidates will be required to reveal the source, but not the amount, of all personal income. Leadership PACs, the personal favorite of House Speaker Bobby Harrell, will now be subject to campaign fund oversight.

Super PACs will become at least semi-transparent. They have had no oversight in South Carolina since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Now they will be required to register with the state, disclose their purpose and reveal who is running the PAC. Additionally, the names of the top five donors and anyone donating over $10,000 in an election cycle will have to be disclosed.

At least South Carolina’s voters will be better informed about who is trying to buy elections for certain candidates.

A little more transparency, but no real threat to members of the General Assembly that they will have to get their ethics in order. About what was to be expected in this ethically challenged state.


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