By Corey Hutchins, Columbia Free Times
A Republican state senator in South Carolina known for championing ethics reform legislation has gone down in an upset primary election held June 12.
Mike Rose, who took serious interest in the State Integrity Investigation, a report by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International that gave his state an F grade on its risk for corruption, had planned to introduce a series of reforms based off much of the report next year.
That won't happen.
Challenger Sean Bennett, 44, roundly beat Rose with a grassroots campaign that raised $17,000 compared to the $60,000 that Rose, a 64-year-old former JAG officer, had in his coffers.
It will be the first time Bennett, a financial planner, has held elected office. He won with 60 percent of the vote. No Democrat has filed to run in the general election held in November.
The defeated Rose (pictured, right) served in South Carolina's Senate from 1988 to 1996. After more than a decade out of office, he ran again in 2008 and has served since then.
Months ago, the state's Republican treasurer, Curtis Loftis, was eating lunch with Rose when John Crangle, who runs the state's chapter of Common Cause, approached the table.
“You'll never see a piece of ethics legislation without his name on it,” Crangle told Loftis, gesturing to Rose.
Crangle was the only lobbyist for South Carolina's last ethics overhaul bill, which passed in 1991.
Ethics issues in South Carolina government have reached a tipping point.
The state's Republican governor, Nikki Haley, is the subject of an investigation by a legislative ethic panel that is looking into whether she illegally lobbied as a lawmaker.
At issue is what she did for more than $40,000 in consulting income from an engineering firm with state contracts that she did not report on her ethics forms because it wasn't required; also being probed is what she did for $110,000 from a hospital while it was seeking approval for a heart center in her district.
Her defense has largely revolved around the critique that many lawmakers at the State House have business dealings with companies that benefit from state government, and that there's nothing wrong with that.
“The prevalence and acceptance of business relationships between lawmakers and special interests in South Carolina might warrant federal intervention, government watchdogs said last week,” according to a June 11 story in the Charleston Post & Courier.
South Carolina earned an F in legislative accountability in the State Integrity Investigation report.
Shortly after the report's release, Rose participated in a conference call with its collaborators and indicated that was interested in drafting a comprehensive overhaul of state ethics laws and would use the report's findings as a basis.
With Rose out of office in South Carolina, that banner will likely be taken up by Republican Sen. Wes Hayes, who chairs the Senate Ethics Committee.
“What I plan to do next year is come forward with an omnibus ethics bill dealing with a number of things ... that were brought out in your report,” Hayes said May 15.
For more coverage on ethics reform and politics in South Carolina, visit the Columbia Free Times website.