When it comes to transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms, South Carolina ranks near the bottom, according to a recently released report.
The State Integrity Investigation, a collaborative project of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International, gave the Palmetto State an overall grade of “F” and a numerical score of 57, ranking it 45th in the nation.
South Carolina received failing grades in the following categories: Public access to information; executive, legislative and judicial accountability; state civil service management; state pension fund management; insurance commissions; budget processes; and ethics enforcement agencies.
The state received a grade of “B” in lobbying disclosure, “B-minus” in both procurement and redistricting, “C-plus” in internal auditing, and “D-minus” in political financing.
“The biggest problems that exist are the manipulative fashions by which political parties are financed; antagonism by politicians toward a transparent government; hostility to the press; the corruptive influence of leadership political action committees; widespread institutional secrecy in disclosing assets, and loopholes in the state’s ethics laws,” State Integrity Investigation wrote.
“In South Carolina, critics say, politics trumps law, and politicians often rule as lords, as evidenced by documented accounts of clear abuses of power. An undercurrent of fear and political interference bubbles throughout the state’s civil service, one that is shot through with cronyism and patronage,” it added.
The organization cited as an example a loophole in campaign-finance laws. While South Carolina corporations and individuals are subject to donation limits of $1,000 for local House or Senate candidates and $3,500 for statewide seats, there are ways around that.
Candidates have "benefitted from a technique made infamous in the Palmetto State by New York City multi-millionaire Howard Rich,” State Integrity Investigation reported. “An anti-government, libertarian activist, Rich dumped at least half a million dollars into the various 2008 General Assembly campaigns of candidates who supported his school vouchers agenda in South Carolina.”
Rich used a “laundry list of independent LLCs” to send checks to candidates, “skirting the spirit of campaign finance laws” that attempt to bar an individual from donating more than the allowable maximum contribution, the investigation found.
In addition, much of Rich’s campaign cash often came during the two-week “blackout period” before an election.” Candidates don’t have to publicly disclose contributions during that period.
The only states that scored lower than South Carolina in the study were Maine (which scored 56 percent), Virginia (55 percent), Wyoming (52 percent), South Dakota (50 percent) and Georgia (49 percent).
New Jersey ranked first at 87 percent, a ranking which even stunned one Garden State solon.
“I'm still in shock,” Senate Majority Leader Lorretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, told the State Integrity Investigation blog. “If we’re number one, I feel bad for the rest of the states.”