SC senators to investigate pension investments

abeam@thestate.comDecember 4, 2013 

Retirement Commission Bullying

South Carolina Treasurer Curtis Loftis at a meeting of the South Carolina Retirement System Investment Commission. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

JEFFREY COLLINS — AP

  • If you go

    What: Special finance subcommittee to review the investment of state retirement funds

    When: 10 a.m., Thursday

    Where: Room 207, Gressette Building, 1101 Assembly St.

— For nearly two years, Republican state Treasurer Curtis Loftis has complained the Legislature has ignored his cries of corruption and wasteful spending at the state Retirement System Investment Commission.

Thursday, lawmakers will listen.

A bipartisan panel of four state senators will hold the first of several hearings Thursday to investigate Loftis’ charges that the commission – which manages the state’s $26.5 billion pension fund for public-sector workers – wastes millions of dollars on fees while some commissioners reap personal financial gain.

“We’ve got an investment commission and treasurer at each other’s throats right now, and I think that’s very unhealthy,” said state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, the committee’s co-chairman along with state Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson. “We will create a set of findings for the full (Senate) Finance Committee and the full Senate, and there may or may not be some structural changes that we suggest for the Investment Commission.”

Loftis has campaigned loudly to reform the investment commission and how it manages the state’s largest financial asset. He has protested huge increases in the management fees that the commission pays investment advisers – more than $420 million this year, up from $1 million in 1998 – while the pension fund performs below the national average of other large pension plans.

Loftis also has accused commission chairman Reynolds Williams of using his position on the commission to steer lucrative state contracts to his Florence law firm. The state attorney general declined to prosecute.

But Loftis’ concerns often have been overshadowed by his delivery.

He has said the investment commission “lacks a moral core.” And last month, the commission’s newly hired chief operations officer resigned in protest after Loftis cursed at him over the telephone. The commission has voted to publicly censure Loftis, and chairman Williams has pushed lawmakers to remove Loftis from the commission.

Tensions are so high that state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, said he initially declined to join the committee investigating the commission.

“I didn’t want to be just dropped in the middle of that,” Jackson said. “You can’t legislate behavior. I don’t know if we can pass laws to make them like each other.

“But I think we can take a look at some concerns that have been raised on both sides.”

Loftis declined to comment for this article. Williams, the commission’s chairman, said he welcomed the committee’s oversight.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “The Legislature should fully inform itself.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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