S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson said he is working with legislators to introduce and pass a law formalizing a new group to investigate public corruption.
The Public Integrity Unit includes the S.C. Attorney General’s office, SLED, S.C. Ethics Commission, S.C. Department of Revenue and state Inspector General. Members of the unit have met three times to organize but has not started actively pursuing cases.
“It gives five agencies cover should they have to investigate a very powerful policymaker or lawmaker,” Wilson said. “I want to take the politics out of it. I want to make sure everyone is held accountable equally.”
Wilson, a Republican, said he would like to see the unit take over everything but administrative cases from the state House and Senate ethics committees, which handle complaints against their members.
“We have to have something that’s codified so they know where they line is,” he said. “I’m not interested if someone filed their paperwork late and had a $100 fine. We’re talking about the things that could evolve into criminal conduct. Not all bad conduct is criminal.”
Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, said he does not have an opinion on formalizing the integrity unit’s powers or ending the legislative ethics committees. But he sees a need for ethics reforms.
“We need to improve the trust factor,” Courson said. “That’s important to the state.”
A law is needed so the unit could set thresholds for probes, obtain subpoenas and share information – such as tax records from the Revenue Department – more easily during an investigation, Wilson’s office said. The attorney general said he does not want to create a new agency. Instead, he wants agreements for the state agencies in the unit to dedicate employees to investigate allegations of public corruption.
Such a unit could have saved months in the investigation into Lt. Gov. Ken Ard’s use of campaign money for personal uses. Revenue Department forensic accountants could have helped instead of the attorney general’s office hiring an outside firm, Wilson said. Ard resigned in March after pleading guilty.
Wilson said accusations of misappropriated campaign cash are probably the most common complaint his office receives about lawmakers. He would not discuss allegations that House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, used campaign cash for personal use. Harrell has denied any wrongdoing.
Wilson discussed plans for the integrity unit while touring the state with Gov. Nikki Haley in August when she announced her ethics reform plans. Wilson declined to say if the unit would have looked into allegations that fellow Republican Haley used her office for personal gain as a state representative from Lexington County. Haley was cleared by the House Ethics Committee this summer.
"Ethics reform is badly needed,” Haley’s spokesman Rob Godfrey said, “and anything that moves the ball forward – like Attorney General Wilson’s PIU – is good news.”