The Buzz

Group sends SC House members $2 each, asking for their vote

The S.C. Podiatric Medical Association sent $2 in a letter to each S.C. House member, asking for their support on a bill that the group favors.

The proposal would allow podiatrists to work on ankles, which they now are barred from doing.

The letter went out to all 124 House members, including House Ethics Committee chairman Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, who said he was surprised to find the $2 in a letter asking his support for a bill.

Bingham responded by sending a letter to all House members instructing them to return the $2 to the Ethics Committee. If House members keep the money, they could be in trouble, Bingham added.

“It’s kind of a gotcha thing,” he said. “They just violated the law, and it's a felony, and they lose their House seat.”

According to state law, “A person may not, directly or indirectly, give, offer, or promise anything of value to a public official, public member, or public employee with the intent to ... influence the discharge of a public official's, public member's, or public employee's official responsibilities,” including voting.

Lawmakers also are barred from accepting anything of value in exchange for voting a certain way.

“I understand it's $2, but we're a no-cup-of-coffee state,” Bingham said, meaning accepting even a cup of coffee in exchange for a vote would break state ethics laws.

“I'm sure that's not what they were thinking,” Bingham added, referring to the podiatrists’ group. “If what they were doing was trying to get members attention, tell them it worked.”

The S.C. Podiatric Medical Association sent a letter to lawmakers on March 7.

The letter — from Kevin Ray, the association’s president — opened with an appeal noting the amount of money that patients spend out of state to see podiatrists – $20,000 a patient.

“With the estimated number of patients, this could exceed $4,000,000 per year not including the aggravation to the patient,” Ray wrote.

The letter concluded by saying South Carolina has less than half the licensed podiatrists it should have and asks lawmakers to support the bill “and help move South Carolina forward in equal parity with 46 other responsible states.”

Steve Lanford, the association’s executive director and a lobbyist, Lanford, said a podiatrist who is a member of the association gave the money to put $2 in each letter.

“It was put in the window of the envelope just to get their attention, just so they would open it,” Lanford, a former legislator, told The State Friday. “Two dollars is not going to influence anybody,” he said.

After hearing about the Ethics Committee’s concerns from a reporter, Lanford added, “It got attention, but maybe it was the wrong way to do it.”

The House Ethics Committee enforces ethics laws against lawmakers, but not against lobbying agencies.

Bingham said the S.C. attorney general or the State Ethics Commission would look into any complaints about the group. Late Friday, neither agency had heard about the incident.