s.c. House

SC House panel considers ‘gaps’ in campaign reporting

ashain@thestate.comFebruary 27, 2014 

Kirkman Finlay

RENEE ITTNER-MCMANUS — rimphotography.com

— As the state Senate debates a sweeping ethics-reform proposal, a House panel has moved ahead six bills to change campaign rules.

State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, a Richland Republican, sponsored the bills after he said he “noticed ... some gaps” in campaign reporting. Finlay said he met with a S.C. House lawyer and a League of Women Voters executive on the fixes.

Finlay’s bills call for a 30-day period for lawmakers to fix any problems in their filings, ending the use of cash by candidates to pay bills, barring cash contributions from voters and forbidding the use of campaign money to pay ethics fines. Many politicians, including Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, have used campaign cash to pay fines for breaking state spending rules.

Finlay said he wanted “more clear and concise laws so lawmakers know what they can and can’t do that won’t get them in trouble. ... People are going to make mistakes. The filings are complicated.”

State Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, called Finlay’s proposals more meaningful than the debate over ethics reform in building public confidence, saying it ends the “gotcha” attitude over simple mistakes.

Alerting lawmakers to errors and giving them 30 days to correct them puts them on notice, Finlay said. He said those warnings should be public.

“If they don’t (fix the problems), we have another set of issues,” he said.

The change would mean the House and Senate ethics committees would deal with more serious cases instead of minor violations that have been corrected.

Requiring the use of credit cards and checks to pay any expense, rather than just those of more than $25, shows “we’re desperately trying to bring our laws to 2014,” Finlay said. Also, ending petty cash withdrawals from campaign accounts should provide a better paper trail, he said.

A House Judiciary subcommittee debated the proposed ban on cash contributions after state Rep. Walt McLeod, D-Newberry, said some voters do not want to write checks.

“Twenty-five dollars allows them to feel they are participating in government,” McLeod said. “For people with modest means, we need them to be involved.”

Finlay said some campaign events have bowls where people can make small cash donations, but sometimes contributors might drop in more than $25. Contributions above that amount must be itemized on election reports that include the donor’s name and other information.

The subcommittee moved Finlay’s proposals forward to the full House Judiciary Committee. If approved there, they would go to the full House and, if passed, to the state Senate.

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