Senate: SC legislators should say who pays them

Disclosure would not include how much lawmakers are paid

12/20/2012 12:00 AM

12/20/2012 12:50 AM

A special state Senate committee plans to propose a law to require lawmakers to disclose their sources of income, ban political action committees affiliated with legislative leaders and require disclosures by now-shadowy political committees that pay for campaign ads.

The legislation also would allow the Senate and House ethics committees to more easily share investigative information with a newly created Public Integrity Unit, led by the S.C. Attorney General’s Office.

The Senate ethics reform committee – one of four at the State House looking at proposals to strengthen ethics laws – said Wednesday it will make other recommendations after seeing a report by a task force appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley. That report is expected to be released in late January.

The legislative session starts Jan. 8.

The ethics-reform committees all have focused on the need for income disclosure. The Senate panel proposes requiring lawmakers to disclose where they are paid, but not the amount, said Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, chairman of the Senate ethics reform committee.

Some lawmakers also have called for banning political-action committees that are affiliated with legislative leaders. Critics say the committees give leaders sway over their colleagues. For example, a PAC affiliated with House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, donates to the campaigns of House candidates who – if elected – then elect the speaker.

Senators also want political committees formed in the state that buy campaign ads to reveal their donors. Hayes and fellow ethics reform committee member, Larry Martin, R-Pickens, were targets of negative ads this fall paid for by new groups, operated out of post office boxes, that did not have to disclose their contributors, thanks to a court ruling that struck down the state’s definition of a political committee.

The Public Integrity Unit – which also includes the S.C. Ethics Commission and State Law Enforcement Division – needs legal clearance to investigate cases referred to it by the House and Senate ethics committees.

The unit would not start investigations until the cases have gone through the House or Senate ethics committees, Deputy Attorney General Barry Bernstein told the reform committee. Those committees would refer only the most severe cases to the unit.

“We want them to get rid of the junk,” he said.

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