COLUMBIA — A review of economic statements issued by South Carolina lawmakers and state officials has found they claimed $19.5 million in income in 2012.
The State newspaper reviewed the 179 statements and found a wide disparity in what lawmakers put in the documents. State law requires lawmakers report any money they get from public sources.
State Sen. Tom Davis reported $2.3 million in income, even including the $1.1 million value of his Beaufort home. The Republican said he benefits from money spent on roads and utilities, so he thinks it is income that should be reported.
On the other end, state Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Six Mile, didn’t even disclose his $22,900 annual legislative salary as public income. He told a reporter he did not know he was supposed to report that money and amended his filing statements for the past five years.
How much lawmakers should disclose about the money they make is a key question as South Carolina considers revamping its ethics laws. Some argue that releasing too much information will prevent some people from running for an office that is supposed to be just part-time. But lawmakers might also be able to hide conflicts of interest if the guidelines are not tight enough.
A bill that would require lawmakers to disclose the sources of all their income passed the House, but wasn’t brought to a vote before the Senate. To keep pressure to change ethics laws, Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, assigned a special committee of three Democrats and three Republicans to hold public hearings this summer and fall and study the issue.
“My fear is that concern about tightening our ethics laws could start to wane as time goes by unless we have some entity to keep it alive,” Courson said.
The review of the reports by the newspaper found that state officials and lawmakers reported $4.5 million in salaries from the state. They also reported getting $7.4 million in fees from government entities, most of it in Medicaid payments or legal fees from the state Workers’ Compensation Commission. Lawmakers also reported $2 million in income from family members who worked for state agencies.
But some large sums of money were not reported. State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, did not report the $735,000 in contracts from the state Department of Transportation given to Florence Concrete Co., which he founded in 1955 and managed until 1994. Leatherman said he doesn’t think he has to report the income because he only has minority ownership of the company and does not do any day-to-day management.
The libertarian-leaning South Carolina Policy Council is joining with several liberal groups to call for lawmakers to voluntarily report all of their income. So far, 34 lawmakers have responded to the effort, but many of them already are disclosing the extra information on their statements.
“It’s not something we expect to happen overnight,” said Ashley Landess, president of the Policy Council. “A lot of the ones who don’t have anything to hide are the first ones who stepped forward.”