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Democrats Lay Out Ethics Reform Plan for S.C.

In the wake of South Carolina’s pathetic performance in a recent national report assessing transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms, three state lawmakers Tuesday outlined steps they say are needed to change the way business is done in the State House.

Inside the State House, Reps. Boyd Brown, D-Fairfield; James Smith, D-Richland; and Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston; laid out a five-point ethics-reform plan:

These included:

  • The elimination of the House and Senate ethics committees, with the power to investigate members of the Legislature instead going to a better-funded State Ethics Commission;
  • A two-year prohibition on lawmakers and certain other government employees from moving into lobbying positions; and
  • Term limits for members of the General Assembly.

“It’s been a long time since South Carolina has endeavored to do a comprehensive overhaul of its ethics regulations, particularly those applying to elected officials,” Stavrinakis said.

There are lots of things that need to be changed in South Carolina, Brown added.

“We have seen the need for the cleaning of the State House and an ethical overhaul of our system,” he said.

At least one observer was less than impressed, however.

John Crangle, director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan government watchdog organization Common Cause of South Carolina, told The Nerve that the trio is well intentioned, but their efforts don’t go far enough.

“What they’re suggesting is like prescribing aspirin for cancer,” Crangle said. “You’re going to have to have much more drastic proposals to deal with the problems in this state.”

Among the biggest challenges cited Tuesday was the need to do away with the House and Senate ethics committees.

As it stands, the only way taxpayers and voters legally can know if legislators cross the ethics line is if the ethics committee in the House or Senate takes some kind of public action against a member.

That fox-guarding-the-henhouse strategy does South Carolina residents who expect honesty from their elected leaders a grave disservice, Brown said.

Smith said the three Democrats decided to throw the press conference together Monday, following a report by the State Integrity Investigation that ranked South Carolina 45th in the nation in the areas of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption efforts with an overall “F” grade.

A collaborative project of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International, the investigation gave the Palmetto State 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.

South Carolina 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.  

Smith said that he would like to have had some Republicans at the press event, but given that it was pulled together on short notice, that was difficult.

Stavrinakis said that ethics reform has to be a bipartisan effort.

“We’re not here to point fingers, but we need to ask the majority party to join us and act to clean up state government, to restore the trust and faith of the people of South Carolina,” he said.

“We need our fellow Republicans in the General Assembly to wake up and join this effort,” Stavrinakis added. “And realize that we’re all in this effort. If we lose the public’s trust, we lose it all together.”

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.

Accountability Ethics Legislation State Agencies Transparency