Mulvaney Aims At Conflicts of Interest

August 18, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveSeveral S.C. lawmakers are dually employed by the state, occupying seats in the General Assembly while at the same time holding jobs as state employees.

It’s nothing new – the Center for Public Integrity has documented potential conflicts of interest among state lawmakers for years – but legislation to prohibit those lawmakers from voting on measures pertaining to their employer agencies is new.

Sen. Mick Mulvaney, R-Lancaster, sponsored such a bill in the legislative session that ended in June.

Mulvaney’s bill, S. 1255, also would require a two-thirds vote by the Legislature to increase lawmakers’ pay or benefits.

The bill was introduced in early March and assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which sent it to a subcommittee, where it remained and died when the session ended.

But Mulvaney, sounding reform-minded themes, says he plans to reintroduce his bill.

He says he also wants to lengthen, from one year to five years, the amount of time lawmakers must wait before they can lobby the General Assembly after they leave legislative office.

“I’m trying to rebuild some faith in the system,” the senator says.

The Nerve reviewed the bios of all state lawmakers listed in the 2010 S.C. Legislative Manual – 46 senators and 124 House members – and found that several either work directly for a state agency or are state employees by virtue of the fact that they have public education jobs.

In fact, most if not all of the legislators dually employed by the state have education occupations, and all of those lawmakers are members of the House.

For example, Rep. Jackie Hayes, D-Dillon, is listed in the Legislative Manual as an athletic director and head football coach. Hayes holds those positions at Dillon High School.

Rep. Lonnie Hosey, D-Barnwell, is listed as director of recruitment and educational technology services at S.C. State University. The website of the historically black, state-funded school in Orangeburg says Hosey is “coordinator of recruitment, distance learning” in S.C. State’s “Public Relations, Recruitment and Student Services” department.

Rep. William Bowers, D-Hampton, is an associate professor of accounting at the publicly funded University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie.

Rep. Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg, is communications director for the S.C. Commission on Higher Education.

There do not appear to be any senators dually employed by the state, although Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg, is a retired elementary school principal and Sen. Floyd Nicholson, D-Greenwood, is a retired educator, nicknamed “Coach Nick.”

Likewise, a few House members are retired educators.

Rep. Dennis Moss, R-Cherokee, is retired from the S.C. Highway Patrol.

But getting an exact count of dually employed state lawmakers from the Legislative Manual is difficult because in some instances it describes their occupations vaguely: Rep. Joseph Daning, R-Berkeley, is in “education.”

“Think about it,” Mulvaney says, “you’ve got a lot of folks down there (in the Legislature) who work for the state.”

He cites lawmaker educators voting on the S.C. Department of Education budget as a troubling example of the situation.

In addition, Mulvaney says, “There’s folks who are doing consulting work for various groups.”

Indeed, the manual lists several legislators as consultants in a range of fields. Do they vote on matters relating to any of their clients?

“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” Mulvaney says in explaining the thinking behind his bill. “People need to know that the government is beyond reproach.” His occupation as listed in the manual: “businessman.”

For her part, Allison says she does not take any action as a legislator on Commission on Higher Education budget issues. Regarding other CHE matters, she says, “It would depend on what it is.”

Allison also says she doesn’t think any lawmakers vote on items if they have a conflict of interest on them. “But if he (Mulvaney) wanted to put it in law I think that’d be fine.”

Does she think there’s a need for the senator’s bill?

“I’ve not known of a need,” Allison says.

There is a handful of full-time legislators, such as Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, and Rep. Patsy Knight, D-Dorchester.

But the vast majority of state lawmakers are gainfully employed, many in high-paying professions.

About 40 legislators are attorneys (at least 14 in the Senate and a minimum of 25 in the House), according to the Legislative Manual. And more than 25 members of the General Assembly work in real estate or insurance.

Still, although the General Assembly is a part-time elected body – meeting for just under six months every year, from early January until late June, typically for three days each week of the session – legislative pay isn’t too shabby either.

Lawmakers earn an annual salary of $10,400 and receive $12,000 per year for their district expenses, as well as $35 per legislative meeting they attend on non-session days. Legislators also can get $131 per session day for hotel and meal costs in addition to mileage payments, health insurance and retirement benefits.

Based on a 22-week session, the full amount for hotel and meal expenses, $1,000 total for mileage and no legislative meetings on non-session days, that adds up to about $32,000 per year, not counting insurance and retirement.

Also, state law requires counties to fund local offices for their legislative delegations.

In a 2004 report, the Center for Public Integrity found that lawyer was the most common profession among S.C. legislators. Real estate was third; insurance, seventh; and public schools, eighth.

“Researchers entered lawmakers’ outside ties into a database and cross-referenced them with committee assignments and lists of lobbying organizations,” the report says.

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative journalism organization in Washington, D.C.

Since 1999, the center has thrice ranked states according to their financial disclosure requirements for legislators.

South Carolina ranked 16th in 1999 with a passing grade but has gone downhill since, falling to 28th in 2006 with an “F” and 29th in 2008 with a “D.”

Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or eric@thenerve.org.