South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was cleared recently in an ethics investigation that focused on whether she should have disclosed that she had a contract with an engineering firm that did millions in state business while she was also serving in the state's legislature. Advocates of transparency in government cite some of the elements of this case in their push to improve the state's ethics laws.
In a story Sunday, The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., explores the issue of ethics reform in South Carolina and the uphill battle those pushing for change may face in the legislature. The story cites South Carolina's F grade and ranking of 45th in the State Integrity Investigation. South Carolina also received an F in the category of ethics enforcement.
The State story details that unlike 44 other states, South Carolina does not require state legislators to fully reveal who they work for or how much they are paid. Their only requirement is to disclose employment and money earned in government jobs and contracts, not in the private sector. This leaves open the possibility that legislators could have a conflict of interest between their private employment and their legislative duty that would go undetected by citizens.
According to The State, State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, and the House Ethics Commission, the S.C. Ethics Commission and state Attorney General Alan Wilson began talks in July on overhauling the state’s ethics laws. The group hopes to prefile legislation in December, prior to the January start of the legislature’s new session. Among the proposals is a requirement for legislators to disclose private-sector employment.
“The recipe for corruption is concentration of power and secrecy. And we have both in this state to a high degree,” Ashley Landess of the S.C. Policy Council told The State. Her group just released an eight-point plan to increase transparency, including requiring full income disclosure from legislators.
You can find the full story at The State.