Editorial: Loftis-Retirement Investment Commission settlement points to larger problem

October 1, 2013 

Romney 2012

An elected treasurer such as Curtis Loftis, campaigning here with Mitt Romney in the runup to South Carolina's 2012 GOP presidential primary, is first and foremost a politician.

CHARLES DHARAPAK — AP

— WE’RE RELIEVED that state Treasurer Curtis Loftis and the other members of the state’s Retirement System Investment Commission finally reached a truce in their spat over his access to confidential investment documents.

Although Mr. Loftis seemed to be more of the provocateur, the fact is that one person can’t maintain a feud. There was plenty of peevishness on both sides, with too little willingness to move past personal slights for the good of our state.

The larger and more important fact is that as long as our laws concerning the Investment Commission and the treasurer remain as they are, it’s incumbent upon the commission to make some accommodations for the treasurer.

But that very need to make accommodations speaks to an even larger problem, one that is nicely summed up in Mr. Loftis’ just-resolved complaint. As The Associated Press reported, although the treasurer always has had full access to all documents in question, “he wanted his office’s legal and financial professionals to review the documents, saying he can’t possibly be expected to review and understand all those documents on his own.”

The other members of the Investment Commission not only can be expected to do all of that themselves but actually do it. That’s because they’re investment professionals, who had to meet certain qualifications in order to be appointed — which is what you’d expect for a panel that is responsible for investing a $27 billion pension fund. It’s what you’d expect of the person who manages your personal portfolio, if you have one.

Mr. Loftis didn’t have to meet any qualifications because he’s an elected official. And he’s an elected official because … well, frankly there is no good reason to have an elected state treasurer. There are plenty of reasons, but they’re all bad — from the 19th century Legislature’s determination to make sure no governor could actually govern our state to the 21st century Legislature’s determination to maintain the Budget and Control Board, which is able to retain its fig leaf of constitutionality only via the presence of an elected treasurer and comptroller general.

It’s no accident that we’ve had more than our share of treasurers and comptrollers whom no one in their right mind would even consider hiring as chief financial officer of their business — ranging from people with solid professional backgrounds but either bad judgment of questionable ethics to successful businessmen with no professional qualifications for such positions. That’s the nearly inevitable result of asking the voters to hire someone for a professional position that frankly isn’t at all interesting and whose work most of us can’t even begin to understand.

As long as the state treasurer is an elected official, he should not be a member of the Retirement System Investment Commission. If the Legislature wants the treasurer to serve on that commission — and it makes sense to want that — it needs to let the governor appoint the treasurer.

Actually, it needs to let the governor appoint the treasurer whether he serves on the commission or not. But especially if he does.

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