Response released Wednesday August 22, 2012 by the Office of the Speaker, SOUTH CAROLINA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Gov. Haley announced Reform Package w/o reaching out to Lawmakers who have been working on Ethics Reform for months (Columbia, SC) – After accusations of ethics violations by then-Representative Haley came to light because of a complaint filed by a member of the public, these ethical issues spurred intensive debate and months of investigation. Following this exhaustive investigative process, unanswered questions still remained and a general discussion of pursuing ethics reform to clarify and solidify our state’s ethics laws ensued in both the House and the Senate. Today, in a lone effort lacking any Legislative notification or input, Governor Haley announced an ethics reform package centered on making actions similar to some of those she admitted to illegal.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell said, “The biggest driving force behind the need for ethics reform in our state was brought about by Governor Haley’s own questionable actions. First and foremost, the unanswered ethical and legal issues raised by the Governor’s past actions should serve as the starting template of any ethics reform effort. The issue of elected officials receiving secret payments from companies with state contracts and pressing lobbyists for cash to benefit personal profit needs to be among the first things addressed in any ethics reform package.”
While lawmakers in both Legislative Chambers have been working on the issue of ethics reform for some time now – also coordinating and working with our state’s Attorney General on this issue – Governor Haley bypassed lawmakers and refused to reach out to or even notify Legislative Leadership of the details of her plan, or even of the fact that she was working on a plan, before announcing her own ethics reform package during a quickly thrown together press conference fly-around earlier today.
“While it is good to have another supportive voice join the House and Senate in our efforts to address comprehensive ethics reform, we were a bit surprised to learn via a media press release that an ethics reform package was being worked on by the Governor,” Speaker Harrell said. “With many of the ethical issues we have been working to clarify and address stemming from the scrutinized actions taken by Governor Haley, her involvement could provide a valuable insight into clarifying the gray area of that law that was so deeply waded into by the Governor. It's ironic, that if we had these reforms in place before Governor Haley committed her actions, she would probably still be meeting with the Attorney General, only in a different place. Her actions point strongly to the need for reform. The House is committed to making that reform reality."
The investigation into then-Representative Haley’s actions raised serious questions about the legality of elected officials receiving secret payments from companies with business contracts before the state and also soliciting outside donations from Lobbyists & Lobbyist Principals to benefit personal gain.
Harrell stated, “These are questions in our ethics laws we need to answer and clearly define, and that will happen this legislative session. Is it illegal for a lawmaker to accept money under the table from a company with business before the state if that company has active contracts with the state, or as Governor Haley’s lawyers argued, illegal only when the company has active contracts directly with the House of Representatives?”
Speaking to how the Legislature’s reform package should take shape, Speaker Harrell said, “Addressing the issues recently raised that spurred this entire ethics reform debate first will provide us with a good base to build on for the Legislature’s reform package. Disclosing the source of Lawmakers’ income and the nature of the work preformed for such businesses with public contracts will greatly increase transparency and the public’s ability to judge if unfair relationships or special favors were acquired. Still to this day, no valid explanation or reason has been given as to what exactly then-Representative Haley did to earn the $48,000 that she failed to report on ethics disclosure documents from a business with lucrative contracts with the state.”
“Many South Carolinians work very hard and earn less than $48,000,” Harrell added. “I’m sure these hard working South Carolinians can explain to Governor Haley exactly what they did to earn their income and a true ethics reform package should require lawmakers accepting such large secret payments to explain to our state’s citizens exactly what they did to earn that income as well.”
House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham said, “The House has consistently been a leader on government reforms and a catalyst for conservative change. Most of our state’s major reform issues – like Tort Reform, Workers’ Comp Reform, Tax Reform, Government Restructuring, etc. – all originated in the House. Because of the serious ethical and legal questions raised by actions recently brought to light this past year, updating and clarifying our ethics laws is something the House is now actively pursuing. Our laws must stay up-to-date with changing times to ensure transparency and address new ways in which some may try to game the system or unscrupulously benefit financially from public service. I expect ethics reform to be a major issue this next session, and I expect the House to once again take a leadership role in delivering on good government reforms.”
House Ethics Committee Chairman Roland Smith said, “After the matter concerning then-Representative Haley’s questionable actions came to light and was thoroughly investigated, a more comprehensive review of our ethics laws has been underway in the House. This high profile investigation and the questions it raised clearly showed the need for more precise ethics guidelines involving elected officials who secretly accept large sums of money from companies with business before the state.”