There is a wolf in sheep’s clothing working its way through our state Legislature.
It purports to be a transparency bill. It is anything but. It will hide how millions of taxpayer dollars are spent.
H.3931 begins saying any non-profit entity that “received more than one hundred dollars in public funds from a state agency or political subdivision in the previous calendar year or the current calendar year, must submit a quarterly expenditure report to the jurisdiction awarding the funds.”
That sounds great.
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But the final section of the bill drops a bombshell on openness: It says that an entity filing such a form is exempt from the far more extensive disclosure provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
This means the public could no longer find out how chambers of commerce, development corporations and publicly supported entities such as museums, charter schools and volunteer fire departments spend the millions of public dollars they receive.
Under current law, they must tell the public how money is spent. The Freedom of Information Act says any entity “supported in whole or in part by public funds” is subject to the law. This means their meetings are open to the public and their records must be available to the public.
The Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce challenged this part of the law, a Circuit Court judge ruled they were indeed subject to the law, and that ruling was appealed to the S.C. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in October. We hope the Supreme Court case will reaffirm openness.
A cynic might say that H.3931 is in response to that lawsuit and is a desperate way to keep secret how chambers of commerce spend their public money.
The quarterly reports that the public would be allowed to see would provide far less information than what non-profits currently have to provide to the public if asked.
This is a very bad bill and should be defeated when it comes before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Executive director, S.C. Press Association