Grassroots Activist Shares His Experience with ‘Project Conflict Watch’

April 30, 2013

Investigative Reports

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EyeThe South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – recently launched “Project Conflict Watch” in an effort to reverse the Palmetto State’s dubious distinction as being the only state that requires public officials to disclose just their sources of government income.

Not knowing officials’ private sources of income prevents the public from determining whether they have any potential conflicts of interest, such as, for example, if a lawmaker might benefit financially from a particular piece of legislation.

The Policy Council’s project, launched on April 16,  requests that public officials – starting with the 170-member S.C. General Assembly – voluntarily disclose their private-income incomes. The nonprofit, nonpartisan, free-market think tank has enlisted the help of grassroots activists statewide to contact lawmakers.

Among those grassroots activists is Robert Crandall, 66, of Chester.

“I’ve been trying to get a handle on what’s going on, on both a national and a state level,” says Crandall, who noted he was attracted to the income-disclosure project. “I thought, great! This is a way for me to get involved at the state level.”

The now-retired quality assurance manager said he first became active in politics in 2007. “Many, including myself,” he recalled, “thought Washington was taking care of business, only to find out they weren’t.”

“I have been frustrated at the arrogance,” he continued, “both at the federal level and the state level. There is no accountability.”

Crandall said he has made it his business to hold lawmakers accountable and has contacted every single legislator in support of Project Conflict Watch.

“Some of them are very cooperative, but others are very protective over that information, which makes me wonder, ‘What are you hiding?’” he said.

So far, only six senators have voluntarily reported their private-income sources to the Policy Council: Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson; Tom Davis, R-Beaufort; Larry Martin, R-Pickens; Shane Massey, R-Edgefield; Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter; and Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington.

Thirteen House members also have responded: Anne Thayer, R-Anderson; Jay Lucas, R-Darlington; Mike Burns, Phyllis Henderson and Garry Smith, all R-Greenville; Todd Atwater, Chip Huggins and Mac Toole, all R-Lexington; Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland; Beth Bernstein, D-Richland; Eddie Tallon, R-Spartanburg; and Gary Simrill and Tommy Pope, both R-York.

That makes 19 out of 170 legislators – a response rate of just over 11 percent.

“If we want to preserve our liberties and our freedoms, we’ve got to get involved,” Crandall says about participating in the project. “It’s time for citizens to get these guys back in line, and let them know they work for us. We put you there.”

“The S.C. Policy Council has provided a wonderful tool for citizens to get involved,” he adds. “We have got to put the pressure on. We have got to challenge legislators to be more transparent. This is about ethics.”

Those who want to learn more about the income-disclosure project can visit the Policy Council’s website here.

Reach Weston at (803) 254-4411 or kelli@thenerve.org. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and on Twitter @thenervesc.