South Carolina taxpayers would be able to see real-time flight information and find out who’s flying their friendly skies under legislation filed this week by S.C. Rep. Gary Simrill (R-Rock Hill).
Specifically, Simrill’s legislation would require the S.C. Aeronautics Commission to “post its flight logs on its website in real time.” That would permit the public to see when – and where – its leaders are flying, as well as who tags along for the ride.
(To view the bill, H. 3547, click here).
Currently, flight data (and passenger manifests) are only available by submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the commission. To its credit, though, the commission has worked to facilitate reporter requests in the past – and has indicated that it has no problem complying with Simrill’s legislation.
Good. The closer the public is permitted to follow these flights, the less potential for abuse there will be. And let’s face it – South Carolina leaders don’t have the best track record when it comes to flying on your dime (or disclosing whose dimes they are flying on).
Just last week, for example, it was revealed that S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, her husband, chief of staff and two other individuals flew on a donor’s private jet to a meeting of the Republican Governor’s Association in San Diego days after her election. This same donor is also said to have flown Haley to a campaign event in Miami last September. When pressed by the Associated Press, Haley disclosed the donor’s name and the estimated value of the flight.
Haley has said that she will disclose all of her flight information – whether on the state plane or on private planes – in the future.
Former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford came under fire extensively for his travel practices in the wake of a sex scandal that nearly brought down his administration. For example, it was revealed in 2009 that Sanford failed to report dozens of private flights, obtained improper upgrades to first class seats on several state trips and misused the state plane for personal and political reasons.
Sanford ended up paying $74,000 in fines associated with several of these violations – but avoided fines related to the private fights he received by agreeing to retroactively release who paid for them.
Haley has also allegedly run afoul of state travel guidelines in the past. In fact, she once claimed that she couldn’t remember where she sat on a plane during a 2007 taxpayer-funded trip to China – despite the fact that a pair of sources who were on the plane said that she flew first class in violation of state policy.
S.C. lawmakers have also come under fire for their taxpayer-funded travel. For example, former S.C. Majority Leader Jim Merrill (RINO-Daniel Island) – who brands himself as a warrior against taxpayer-funded lobbying – was busted in August of 2009 flying a lobbyist to a legislative conference in North Carolina on the state plane.
We applaud Simrill for taking the lead on this issue and hope that his bill is the start of greater “travel transparency” across the board in South Carolina.
UPDATE: We’ve added Rep. Simrill’s bill to a list of “pro-South Carolina” reforms on our 2011-12 S.C. Legislative Scorecard. If you’ve got a vote that you think we should include on our scorecard, feel free to email it to us (or submit it anonymously on our contact page).