Governor's commission recommends SC ethics reforms

ashain@thestate.comJanuary 28, 2013 

Lawmakers would disclose more sources of income, face stiffer fines and stop representing clients before some state commissions under new ethics rules suggested Monday by a commission created by Gov. Nikki Haley.

Haley appointed most of the commission last year after ethics became a headline issue. They included the House ethics committee clearing the governor of changes she used her office for personal gain while she was a state representative and the resignation of Lt. Gov. Ken Ard over charges of misusing campaign contributions.

The governor’s commission led by former Attorneys General Henry McMaster and Travis Medlock included former U.S. attorneys, state ethics commission members and media representatives.

Their recommendations will be weighed against suggestions from three ethics-reform legislative committees that met simultaneously. McMaster and Medlock said they would lobby for the commission's suggestions and testify before legislative committees if asked.

Many of the governor’s commission recommendations mimicked what Haley suggested herself last year. The suggestions released Monday included:

- The S.C. Ethics Commission weigh all complaints against lawmakers and decide whether to refer cases to a new Public Integrity Unit for major violations and the House and Senate ethics committees for minor violations or sanction legislators itself. The Senate and House ethics committees have jurisdiction over lawmakers now.

- Raising the amounts of ethics violation fines.

- Lawmakers disclose all sources of income -- public and private -- and reveal the amounts received from government agencies or businesses with government contracts tied to a public official. They also must disclose income of immediate family members. Legislators only must disclose government income.

- Stopping legislators from representing clients before state boards and commissions if the lawmaker voted to appoint its members.

- More narrowly defining a political committee so more of them will have to file details election spending reports and ending leadership political-action committees that allow unlimited contributions to candidates. The status of political committees is up in the air after courts shot down the state’s definition as overly broad. - Lobbyists register with the state Ethics Commission when going before any local government board or council. Now, they must register only for state government lobbying.

- Speeding response to time for Freedom of Information requests and lowering fees.

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