Politics & Government

Senator: Haley is reason SC needs new ethics law

If ethics reform -- Gov. Nikki Haley's top priority -- fails to pass the General Assembly this year, the Republican will have herself and her spokesman to blame, a Democratic state senator said Tuesday.

Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, said he "blew a gasket'' Saturday after reading a comment from Rob Godfrey, Haley's spokesman, in The State, after the resignation of state Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, who the Senate Ethics Committee accused of breaking the law by spending campaign money on himself.

Godfrey had said, "While we appreciate Sen. Robert Ford's service to South Carolina, this is a real-world example of why ethics reform is so important in South Carolina.''

Jackson said the Senate's ethics process worked -- the case against Ford was heard by a bipartisan panel of senators, and Ford resigned -- and he objected to Godfrey tying the need for ethics reform to Ford.

"If you want to know why we need ethics reform, perhaps Mr. Godfrey should have went downstairs and looked at somebody he's real familiar with,'' an emotional Jackson said Tuesday on the Senate floor, referring to Haley, twice cleared by the GOP-majority House Ethics Committee of using her position as a Lexington state representative for personal financial gain.

Jackson said Haley had used her legislative connections to fund-raise for a foundation that paid her. He, and other Senate Democrats, oppose having the governor appoint a majority of a committee that would oversee ethics complaints against lawmakers -- part of the ethics proposal being considered by the Senate.

Godfrey on Tuesday dismissed Jackson's comments as political maneuvering. "(T)oday's smokescreen is just another in a long list of delay tactics we've seen out of Senate Democrats,'' Godfrey said. "(T)here is no reason good enough to block ethics reform this year, and the senator and all his colleagues have a responsibility to the people of our state to stop stalling and pass the bill.''

Jackson was the only senator to speak late Tuesday, when the Senate took up the much-anticipated ethics reform package, aimed at strengthening the laws that govern public officials. The Senate will debate the bill Wednesday.

Lawmakers are running out of time to pass the bill this year. Haley, Senate Republican leaders and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw -- Haley's presumed 2014 Democratic challenger for governor -- have been pushing to pass a proposal.

The bill still needs two approvals from the Senate before going back to the House. From there, the bill likely will be sent to a conference committee so the two bodies can resolve their differences.

That must happen by 5 p.m. Thursday -- when the General Assembly's regular session ends -- for the bill to have a chance of passing this year.