Stepping Up to the Plate: More Lawmakers Respond to ‘Project Conflict Watch’

May 7, 2013

Investigative Reports

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Home PlateMore S.C. lawmakers in the past week have responded to the recently launched “Project Conflict Watch” by The Nerve’s parent organization, the South Carolina Policy Council, bringing the total number of responses to date to 25.

The project, which began April 16, is the Policy Council’s latest effort to improve transparency in South Carolina government. The Palmetto State is the only state that requires public officials to report just their government sources of income, according to a report by the governor-appointed S.C. Commission on Ethics Reform.

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.

Enlisting the help of grassroots activists across the state, the Policy Council is requesting that public officials – starting with the 170-member General Assembly and the state’s nine constitutional officers, including Gov. Nikki Haley – voluntarily disclose their private-income sources.

The Nerve reported last week that 19 out of 170 legislators had disclosed their private-income sources. Since then, responses from six more lawmakers have been received: Sen. Ross Turner, R-Greenville; and Reps. Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg; Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington; Raye Felder, R-York; Deborah Long, R-Lancaster; and Murrell Smith, R-Sumter.

Thus far, none of the constitutional officers, including Haley and Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, has submitted forms to the Policy Council. S.C. Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said in an email response to Barbara Zia, co-president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, that he had already completed his required state income-disclosure form.

“I will point out that my ‘outside positions’ are all related to my family farming businesses that I operate with my brother,” Weathers wrote.

The Policy Council has received positive feedback from some volunteers, including, for example, Corey Wallace, general manager of Hampton Inn & Suites Florence-North.

“I am glad to see that many of the legislators who have trumpeted ethics reform in our General Assembly have stepped up to the plate and delivered,” said Wallace in an e-mail to The Nerve. “Those like Rep. Jay Lucas and Sen. Tom Davis realize that ethics reform can only begin with disclosure of self-interest and financial records.

“I am hopeful that others like my senator, Gerald Malloy, and Governor Haley will see the importance of this exercise and join the cause of transparency in our state government. Only then can we be government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

For more information about the income-disclosure project, 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.