It’s a broken record. Every year state leaders take to the grandstand to declare their support for ethics reform in state government. There isn’t disagreement among lawmakers, the media or the public that ethics policies in South Carolina are woefully lax and setup to protect the people who make the laws.
Yet every year, any reforms seem to die on the twisting vine that is the state government.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Nikki Haley took the cause to the people, visiting several cities to throw her support for the South Carolina Policy Council’s ethics reform package.
She was immediately lambasted by lawmakers and others who say she has been guilty of using the very loopholes she now trying to close.
She is, but it’s time to move on.
The state needs these reforms if we ever hope to have an honest, open government where lawmakers are held accountable. It may be hypocritical of her, but if she can get reform though the painfully mucky maze that is the state House and Senate, we’ll all be better off.
Her ideas aren’t new, but the power of the governor’s seat can shine a spotlight on it.
It is absurd that ethics violation allegations of lawmakers bypass the more neutral State Ethics Commission. Instead, each chamber has its own ethics committee to investigate its members – which allows friends and colleagues to protect each other.
The proposal calls for the State Ethics Commission to investigation allegations against House and Senate members
It also calls for elected officials to abide by the state’s Freedom of Information Act – something lawmakers have conveniently exempted for themselves and other elected officials. That loophole allowed Haley to refuse to release emails during her campaign for governor.
Other proposals include:• Requiring lawmakers and their families to disclose all income earned from all employers.
• Requiring all candidates, challengers and incumbents, to file the same paperwork to register their campaigns. Haley was recently cleared by the House Ethics Committee of allegations that she illegally lobbied for a hospital and an engineering firm with state contracts.
• Prohibiting legislators who are attorneys from representing clients before state boards over which they have appointment powers.
• Allowing the governor, rather than the legislators, fill hundreds of slots on boards and commissions as well as judges.
These are important reforms, but it won’t be easy to find agreement among lawmakers who not only have different ideas, but must enjoy the wiggle-room they now have to skirt the rules and perhaps line their own pockets.
The Policy Council’s president, Ashley Landess wants to see even more reforms. “I think we’ve been too soft when talking about ethics. What we’re really talking about is corruption,” she told the Associated Press. “Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s good or right. I think it’s difficult to break South Carolina ethics law. I think you’d have to work at it.”
We hope the added attention on ethics reforms spurs action from lawmakers. Until then, any of them who agree with the changes should adhere them as if they were law already. Without that, we will know they aren’t serious about reform.