S.C.’s New Hitmen

August 1, 2013

Inside Insight

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Politicos Declare Virtual War on Transparency Advocates

By Ashley Landess

You’ve probably noticed some elected officials are not too happy with us for starting the income disclosure project to empower citizens to ask elected officials to voluntarily disclose who pays them. You’ve seen some stories about that on The Nerve, but also in the mainstream media. In fact, the public attention we’ve generated on politicians’ secret income sources has triggered a barrage of online attacks by politicians’ staff/consultants. These smack-downs on blogs and social media sites range from sniping “mean-girl” style (Apparently I look like a “bitter ghoul” on TV!) to more nefarious smearing by anonymous bloggers (claiming activist has a criminal record – absolutely false, as Tuesday’s Nerve story pointed out).

Clearly the job of this consultant media “hit” squad is to divert attention from the powerful politicians who won’t disclose their income sources and aren’t pleased that they are getting pressure outside the legislative process. From what we’ve seen, politicians have good reason to want to hide who pays them. And it’s clear you need to know the truth. Some lawmakers have made a lot of money – in some cases, millions – from business situations over which they have a great deal of control. For example, Medicaid expansion could benefit several lawmakers, including the House Speaker, who is president of a pharmaceutical company. An Upstate senator does work for NASCAR and co-sponsored legislation to give a tax break to Darlington Raceway. A top Democrat House member went so far as to request funding in a proviso for the nonprofit from which she draws a salary. A concrete company with ties to the Senate Finance Chairman has made $30 million off of contracts with the state, and he not only controls the budget process in the Senate but also sits on several boards that deal with transportation funding and contracts.

South Carolina won’t change until government structure does. Powerful legislative leaders can’t afford to let that happen. And that’s the dark side of the online attack strategy. It is unlikely that these “consultants” are hammering away at private organizations, volunteer activists and news reporters because they are passionate about their bosses’ right to operate in complete secrecy – a perk that is unique to South Carolina. It’s a safe bet these bloggers are being paid by those who can’t afford for our work to succeed.

The good news is that more than 1,000 income disclosure requests have been sent to elected officials by their constituents. So far 36 of them have filled out the forms, leaving around 143 (legislators and constitutional officers) who have not.  Until lawmakers pass all the laws necessary to restore separation of powers in government and give citizens the ultimate control, we’ll do our part to monitor and report on the conflicts of interest that are rampant in our State House. Transparency is for government; right to privacy is for private citizens. The only people who don’t understand that are pretty much all inside the State House complex. Go visit them – and take an income disclosure form with you!

www.scpolicycouncil.org/conflict-watch