Let ethics reform proposal die, some SC activists say

06/17/2014 9:19 PM

06/17/2014 9:20 PM

The first update to the state’s ethics laws in two decades could die this week – exactly the end that some ethics-reform advocates now say that they prefer.

A proposed ethics bill that is a single Senate vote and a signature by Gov. Nikki Haley away from becoming law is too weak and does not fix existing flaws in state law, the activists say. They say more time is needed to improve the bill, which they say could be reintroduced next year.

John Crangle, director of Common Cause’s S.C. chapter, called the ethics-reform proposal now before the Senate a “pious fraud.”

“It fails to stop the use of campaign funds for non-campaign purposes, including personal use,” Crangle said. “It fails to end the self-policing of legislators or secrecy in the ethics complaint process, and it doesn’t truly eliminate leadership PACs (political action committees) run by key lawmakers.”

Ending the practice of lawmakers investigating ethics complaints against themselves was a top priority for watchdog groups and Haley, but lawmakers rejected the idea.

However, supporters of the bill have said the legislation would strengthen existing law by increasing lawmakers’ disclosure of their private income and requiring political groups that attack candidates anonymously to report their activity.

Ashley Landess, president of the S.C. Policy Council, dislikes an addition to the bill that she says “goes after groups that are not directly influencing elections” by making them reveal some of their private donors if they send out, for example, a voter guide that mentions candidates.

But another activist said Crangle and Landess are being too critical.

“They're simply very wrong,” said Lynn Teague of the S.C. League of Women Voters. “We (league members) don't think (the bill is) perfect. We do think it is decent and will put us far ahead of where we are now.”

Teague said the bill would define “committee,” requiring groups that spend at least half of their money attempting to influence the outcome of an election to report their donors and expenses. If the bill does not pass, the state will “go into an election (in November) with no disclosure at all” from third-party political groups, she said.

Those groups, called political action committees, now are allowed to operate anonymously after the state Supreme Court ruled the state’s legal definition of committee was “unconstitutional.”

State Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said “misinformation” about the bill has been circulating. He added he hopes the Senate will give the bill a final OK, sending it Haley for her signature, before Thursday.

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