COLUMBIA, SC — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday that any legislator who fights proposed changes to the state’s ethics laws “is a legislator we have a problem with.”
Specifically, Haley said legislators who do not think they should disclose the sources of their personal income and who think the state House and Senate should continue to police their own members are waving a “huge red flag,” inviting voters to “vote them out” of office.
Improving oversight of lawmakers and requiring them to disclose who pays them are two goals of legislation aimed at strengthening the state’s ethics laws. That legislation now is stalled in the state Senate.
The changes also are among the recommendations that Haley received earlier this year from a panel of experts she asked to study the issue.
On Wednesday, Haley warned lawmakers not to oppose the ethics proposal when the General Assembly returns in January to complete its two-year legislative session.
Haley made her comments in response to a question from the news media shortly before a Senate panel, tasked with evaluating proposed changes to ethics laws, met to discuss how to proceed. A reform proposal passed the House earlier this year.
“They should not pause. They should not punt. They should not question that ethics report,” Haley said. “If they do, we want everyone in South Carolina to know who it is.”
Senate Ethics Committee chairman Luke Rankin, R-Horry, said Wednesday he wants to develop a list of changes to the ethics laws that are most likely to pass, then create a “wish list” for other proposed changes. The Senate ethics panel will share its recommendations with the Senate when lawmakers return in January.
The issue likely will be as contentious as it was earlier this year.
Questions about how much information about their income public officials should disclose and who should police lawmakers are central –- and controversial – parts of the debate over the proposed reforms.
Rankin questioned whether the Senate would vote to give up the power to investigate accusations of ethics violations against their own members, giving that authority to an independent body.
The Senate Ethics Committee investigation into former Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, accused of spending campaign money on personal expenses, is an example of the Senate providing effective oversight of its members, he said. Ford resigned amid the ethics scandal, which SLED is investigating.
But state Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said conflicts of interest arise when senators and their staff members shift to being investigators from colleagues and advisers.
Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, said the public is pushing for change because it does not trust “colleagues investigating colleagues.”
S.C. ethics reform
Ideas discussed Wednesday by a state Senate panel looking at ways to improve the state’s ethics laws included:
• Stopping anonymous political groups from spending money on campaigns without reporting their activities
• Banning leadership PACs – political fundraising groups that have ties to legislative leaders and the potential to influence members through campaign contributions
• Improving oversight of legislators’ campaign records through, perhaps, requiring lawmakers to submit bank statements with their campaign finance reports and auditing those records
• Creating protections for “whistleblowers” who report government misconduct.
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