Corruption Risk Report Card
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South Carolina’s weak asset disclosure law, loophole-ridden campaign finance regulations, and toothless ethics commission earn the state a failing grade on the State Integrity Index. Read more from SII State Reporter Corey Hutchins.
As lawmakers in three Southeastern states prepare for the 2013 legislative session, they’re finding bipartisan agreement on an unlikely agenda: ethics reform. Leaders in South Carolina and Florida have begun work that lawmakers and watchdogs say could lead to the states’ first meaningful reforms in decades. And in Georgia, proponents of stronger rules are rallying behind a slate of measures they hope may finally pass in what has long been a recalcitrant Legislature.
The initiatives all seek some regulation of money and influence. The proposals take aim at independent political spending, asset disclosure and gifts from lobbyists in an effort to bolster transparency and rein in the spiraling costs of running campaigns. In some cases the reforms could go deeper, as lawmakers try to attack the roots of corruption by strengthening ethics oversight and enforcement.
Legislators in South Carolina have taken initial steps toward what could be the first major overhaul of the state’s ethics rules in twenty years. As the Free Times reported this morning, government watchdog groups rattled off their wish lists at a hearing held last week by a panel of state House Democrats. South Carolina earned an overall grade of F for corruption risk from the State Integrity Investigation earlier this year, and fallout from that report — along with a series of recent ethics scandals — appears to have built political consensus on the need for reforms, said John Crangle of South Carolina Common Cause.
Earlier this year the State Integrity Investigation published a story detailing how an obscure, 2010 federal court ruling in South Carolina “kicked the regulatory teeth” out of the state’s campaign finance laws. The ruling essentially stripped the requirement for outside groups to disclose their donors.
This election marks the first in which several powerful Republican incumbents are up for re-election since the ruling, and as The State reports today, the results aren’t pretty for the legislators.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced Thursday the creation of a special commission on ethics reform. The panel will be headed by former state attorneys general and will join with similar efforts in the legislature to recommend a set of ethics reforms for the lawmakers to consider when the 2013 legislative session convenes in January.
In March, the State Integrity Investigation gave South Carolina an F as part of a state-by-state report card on ethics, accountability and transparency. Since then, Haley and other state leaders have been rocked by a series of ethics scandals. With elections nearing, reform is an increasingly hot topic in on the campaign trail.
See The State for complete coverage of Haley’s announcement.
South Carolina’s capital of Columbia is abuzz with political gossip following a report that the House Speaker has failed to properly report hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign spending. Last week, the Post and Courier of Charleston reported that Republican Bobby Harrell has reimbursed himself more than $325,000 from his campaign account since 2008, but has neglected to submit receipts or itemized reports for all the spending, as required by state law.
The failure appears to put Harrell out of compliance with ethics rules, but it’s unclear who exactly will be trying to answer that question. Normally, oversight authority rests with a six-member legislative committee. But, as the Post and Courier points out, Harrell has made campaign contributions to five of those legislators through a PAC he is affiliated with, leading watchdog groups to question the committee’s independence. The chair of the committee told the Post and Courier he couldn’t “afford” to talk about the allegations.