South Carolina lawmakers don’t back into session until January, but Gov. Nikki Haley is already pressing them to pass the ethics reform bill that’s first on the Senate calendar.
"To pass ethics reform in South Carolina sends a bigger message to the citizens of South Carolina that, yes, we understand you should trust your government. Yes, we understand that elected officials are supposed to work for you and not the other way around," she said at a Statehouse news conference Wednesday. She’ll hold another Thursday at 3 at Greenville City Hall and plans to travel the state to push for passage of the ethics reform bill.
One of the main parts of the bill is that the State Ethics Commission would investigate complaints against members of the House and Senate. Right now, the House Ethics Committee investigates its own members while the Senate Ethics Committee investigates complaints against senators.
"To have to go and investigate your own members that you're going to be asking to support you on a bill the next week is wrong. It can't work," the governor said.
While the State Ethics Commission would do the investigating, the House and Senate Ethics committees would still decide on the final outcomes of cases for their members.
Another main part of the bill would require lawmakers to disclose all of the sources of their income.
"If you don't know who pays your legislator, then you don't know why they're voting the way they are, and what we want to do is take the conflict of interest out,” Gov. Haley said.
The House passed an ethics reform bill earlier this year. The Senate made changes and the bill made it to the full Senate floor, but it ran out of time to pass this year.
Watchdog group Common Cause says the bill would be an improvement but it doesn’t go far enough. State director John Crangle says, "We need a strong whistleblower law to protect government employees who report corruption in government from retaliation."
He says a good example of how that would help is the case of Paul Moore, who was convicted of stealing more than $5 million dollars from the state Department of Social Services. He had been the agency’s financial director. The theft occurred over four years and others were involved in the scheme, so Crangle says if there had been a financial incentive, and protection, for someone to blow the whistle, Moore would have been caught sooner, saving millions of dollars.
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