South Carolina is among the states most ripe for corruption because of government secrecy, weak ethics enforcement, little disclosure of legislators’ finances and low accountability for legislative and executive branch members, according to a nationwide analysis to be released today.
The report gives South Carolina failing grades in nine of 14 key categories, with the state faring especially poorly in public access to information and executive accountability.
South Carolina scored above average in just four areas – lobbying disclosure, procurement, redistricting procedures and internal auditing.
Overall, only five states rank lower than South Carolina in the study’s “corruption risk” index – Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia. North Carolina was tied for 19th-best, ahead of 29 states.
The report was based on an 18-month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, nonpartisan good-government groups based in Washington.
Analysts interviewed hundreds of state officials and employees, along with professors, lawyers, advocacy group leaders and others who have extensive experience with or knowledge of their state governments.
Each state was graded on 330 standards for its laws, regulations and enforcement in state civil service management, accountability of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, state budget processes and other key areas.
The study cited reporting by The State newspaper last November, revealing that emails among Gov. Nikki Haley and her staff had been deleted.
Citing “a pervasive antagonism toward the press at the upper reaches of government,” the report found: “There is no agency that enforces the Freedom of Information law or monitors the state government’s compliance with it. There is also no appeal process, relegating to the courts any problem a member of the public or press experiences in obtaining public information.”
Haley dismissed the study’s conclusions.
“We’re continuing to make this the most transparent administration in history,” Haley’s spokesman, Rob Godfrey, told McClatchy. “Agenda-driven D.C. groups can say what they want, but the strides made in South Carolina under the administration are undeniable.”
Godfrey said Haley’s office has worked with state archivists to develop a records-retention plan. He said that she releases a detailed weekly public schedule.
Haley, however, has been criticized for leaving fundraising events off her public schedule, including an Oct. 28 luncheon in Georgia hosted by a prominent Atlanta lawyer with ties to Georgia port officials. The ports of Savannah, Ga., and Charleston are competing for federal funds to deepen their harbors.
The report said there is little public accountability for members of the part-time General Assembly.
Legislators have slashed funding for the State Ethics Commission from $725,000 to $284,000 since 1999, the report said.
The report commended the commission for its probes of former Gov. Mark Sanford and former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, who resigned March 9 and received a $5,000 court fine for numerous campaign finance violations.
The Corruption Risk Report Card for South Carolina: