Republican Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday her top ethics priorities include income disclosure for elected officials and independent investigations into ethics complaints.
She also said lawyer-legislators should disclose when they sue the state.
“Any legislator that sues the state of South Carolina must disclose to the taxpayers which agency they sued and how much they got paid for it,” Haley said.
But ethics watchdog John Crangle of Common Cause said confidentiality agreements could prove to be a sticking point with that proposal.
Crangle, a lawyer, said he has sued state entities and settled confidentially — with both the plaintiff and state agreeing not to discuss what happened.
“Unless Nikki Haley is willing to bite that bullet and say the state’s not going to have any confidential settlements anymore, what she’s proposing will not work,” Crangle said.
State Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Fairfield, who said he has sued state agencies, said lawyer-legislators already reveal if they sue a state agency through public court records, where they are listed as the attorney.
If lawmakers receive money from a state agency as a result of a lawsuit, they have to list the agency they received money from on their statement of economic interest, Coleman said.
That statement is an annual filing that public officials are required to make with S.C. Ethics Commission, listing the source, type and amount or value of income received from a government by the official or an immediate family member.
For example, Coleman said since he is the town attorney for Winnsboro, he lists the town as a source of income on his statement.
Also, to prevent a conflict of interest, Coleman said he does not vote on members of the S.C. Worker’s Compensation Commission since he practices worker’s compensation law.
Haley also said income disclosure needs to be a priority.
“We deserve as taxpayers to know who pays our elected officials,” she said.
Haley also said an independent entity needs to investigate allegations against lawmakers instead of the House and Senate Ethics committees, which she said should be eliminated.
“If there is anybody that doesn’t think we need an independent investigation system, look at the Harrell case,” Haley said, referring to former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who was investigated by Attorney General Alan Wilson, a state grand jury and 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe but not the House Ethics Committee.
Harrell entered a guilty plea to six charges of misusing campaign funds for personal expenses and resigned from office.
Haley said that it had been two years since she created the McMaster-Medlock commission, her ethics reform commission co-chaired by former attorney generals Travis Medlock and Henry McMaster, the incoming lieutenant governor.
Since then, the state still has an “F” on the corruption risk report card, issued by the Center for Public Integrity, ranking 45th nationally, she said.
During her first term, the lieutenant governor, House speaker and a state senator have been indicted, Haley said. She also said eight sheriffs have left office — seven facing criminal charges and one dying of a heart attack as an investigation into his finances was wrapping up.
“The time is now for ethics reform,” Haley said. “It’s time for us to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”