Wait – is the American republic built on the honor system?
Last week, a longtime reader of The Nerve and resident of Sumter, John Reames, sent an email to Rep. Grady Brown asking him to participate in Project Conflict Watch. That, you’ll remember, is the webpage hosted by the South Carolina Policy Council (The Nerve’s parent organization) that allows South Carolinians to ask their state politicians to voluntarily disclose their sources of income. Since lawmakers at present have to disclose nothing about their private income – and since it’s therefore very difficult to figure out if their actions are conflicted or not – the idea is to urge them to disclose voluntarily.
Here’s how Rep. Brown responded:
If there was a conflict about where my salary and income came from, I would be happy to fill out your form … there is no conflict … never has been … when you perceive that a conflict is taking place … let me know and I will happily give an answer. [ellipses in the original]
When Reames expressed his disappointment, Brown followed up:
Sorry, but it is no one’s business whose hair I cut or how much I make cutting hair … the city of Bishopville knows because my business license cost reflects how much I take in … my furniture store is now operated by our youngest son … I will state for the record the only money paid to me by the state is what I make as a legislator … hope this helps everyone’s desire to know where my income is derived from.
We are inclined to believe Brown’s insistence that his sources of income do not put him in a conflict of interest. Then again, we don’t know – and that’s the point.
Brown seems to believe that official conflicts of interest should be subject to the honor system: If he’s ever involved in a conflict of interest, he explains to his constituent, he’ll be sure and let him know. Until then, rest assured he’s not conflicted.
The American form of republican government doesn’t work like that, and we suspect Brown knows it.