The S.C. State Ethics Commission wants to hire more help to assist it in overseeing most of the state’s elected officials.
The commission also elected Jim Warren, a Greenville commercial real-estate attorney, as its new chairman Wednesday. Former chairman James Burns is Gov. Nikki Haley’s incoming chief of staff.
The commission is requesting more staff members to assist with auditing financial disclosures that every public official and candidate for public office files regularly with the agency, according to its budget request for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
The agency now does not have enough employees to conduct regular audits. As a result, it largely limits itself to following up on complaints, Warren said, adding commissioners have said, “having additional investigative resources would help us do our job better.”
The agency is asking for $99,500 to hire two auditors and $147,000 to pay for two additional investigators.
The commission currently does not employ any auditors, said Herb Hayden, its executive director. Once those positions are filled, the commission likely will receive more complaints alleging violations of the state ethics law, according to the agency’s state budget request.
Complaints have been on the rise in recent years, climbing to 170 in the 2014 fiscal year, up from 100 in 2011, and creating a backlog of work for commission staff members.
The agency’s push for more watchdogs corresponds with the state Legislature’s sharpened focus on ethics reforms.
Lawmakers spent the 2013-14 General Assembly discussing ways to improve the oversight of public officials, but failed to pass any ethics reforms and did not give the agency any new resources. However, lawmakers agreed the Ethics Commission and two legislative ethics committees do not have enough staff members or resources to provide regular, consistent oversight of lawmakers.
The commission acts as the watchdog for all state and local elected officials except state legislators, who are policed by the House and Senate Ethics committees.