A S.C. judge has refused to dismiss a case challenging the S.C. House Republican Caucus to release financial records tied to a State House corruption probe.
The State and other media sued the caucus this year after the newspaper was denied access to financial records the caucus gave to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division as part of a State House corruption investigation headed by prosecutor David Pascoe.
That investigation has led to several indictments, including of a former House speaker and several GOP legislative leaders.
Last month, the House Republican Caucus argued the lawsuit should be dismissed, saying the caucus was exempt from the S.C. Freedom of Information Act. Caucus attorney Jennifer Hollingsworth said the state Constitution allows the S.C. House and Senate to make their own rules, including what meetings and records should be made public.
However, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper Jr. wrote in his order, issued Monday, that the House can’t use a rule in a “unilateral effort” to circumvent state law. That law can’t be amended except by another law, Cooper wrote, allowing the lawsuit to proceed.
Bill Rogers — executive director of the S.C. Press Association, a group that The State belongs to — said he was pleased with Cooper’s decision. “It sends a message that the Constitution and the law really do apply to the Legislature.”
House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, said the Republican Caucus will review the order with its attorneys and determine the next course of action.
Gov. Henry McMaster has said he thinks the General Assembly should not be exempt from the state’s public records law. The Republican plans to include that proposal as part of an ethics package he will announce before the Legislature reconvenes in January, the governor’s office said last month.