SC

Davis And Sheheen: Ethics Bill “Failed To Deliver”

SENATORS: “THE PEOPLE OF SOUTH CAROLINA DESERVE BETTER THAN THIS” By Tom Davis and Vincent Sheheen  ||  We take ethics in government seriously.  When the people’s trust is broken, the people’s business cannot be done.  Real ethics reform in South Carolina must be based on two overriding principles: complete financial…

SENATORS: “THE PEOPLE OF SOUTH CAROLINA DESERVE BETTER THAN THIS”

By Tom Davis and Vincent Sheheen  ||  We take ethics in government seriously.  When the people’s trust is broken, the people’s business cannot be done.  Real ethics reform in South Carolina must be based on two overriding principles: complete financial disclosure by officials and an independent body to investigate alleged wrongdoing by elected officials in the legislative or executive branches.

On the last day of this year’s legislative session, House Bill 3945 — commonly referred to as the ethics bill — died when a bipartisan majority of the Senate refused to pass it.  We joined with other senators in insisting that our state deserved better than a watered-down bill that failed to deliver fundamental reforms.

No one can reasonably argue that our state’s current ethics law adequately checks the behavior of those elected to serve the people.  That law, last revised more than two decades ago, earned our state an “F,” and a numerical score of just 57 percent, from the State Integrity Investigation, a collaborative project of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International.

The version of H.3945 debated this month in the Senate had a section requiring disclosure of income sources, but not the amounts received from those sources — information vital to assessing whether a lawmaker has a conflict of interest.  But what truly made the bill unacceptable was the deletion of the section requiring some independent oversight of elected officials’ behavior.

Many of those following the legislative process closely saw this coming.  A few weeks before the session ended, Rock Hill’s Herald wrote: “State lawmakers appear willing to pass a watered-down ethics reform bill that continues to allow legislators to police themselves.  We question whether a bill that doesn’t contain a provision for an independent oversight commission composed of non-legislators is even worth passing.”

We asked ourselves that question, and decided that it wasn’t.  The Greenville News put it well when it wrote: “There is no conceivable way a House or Senate ethics committee can always objectively investigate alleged ethics violations by its own members; and even if an objective investigation were possible, the illusion of subjectivity creates questions about any conclusions.”

Still, some contended that passing a watered-down ethics bill would be better than nothing.  They argued, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The State correctly summed up the flaw in this reasoning: “The problem lies in the temptation it (passing H.3945) gives our legislators to check ‘ethics reform’ off their to-do list and go on their merry way, as if they have reformed our ethics law.”  And this newspaper correctly advised that the bill “should be passed only with the very clear and explicit acknowledgment that it is not an ethics-reform bill.”

Far from acknowledging that it wasn’t an ethics-reform bill, however, proponents praised H.3945 on the floor of the Senate as comprehensive ethics reform.  And senior lawmakers in both parties privately acknowledged that if it became law, ethics was done for another 20 years.  The people of South Carolina deserve better than this.

In addition to the critical omission of independent oversight of elected officials’ actions, H.3945 was deficient in that it broadly defined “electioneering communications” to include any person or group that even references a candidate in a communication within 60 days of a general or 30 days of a primary election.  This would force many non-political organizations to disclose their top donors, thus chilling free speech — which is why government-watchdog groups from across the ideological spectrum opposed the bill.

South Carolina citizens deserve access to information on whether their elected officials have conflicts of interest and an independent process to hold them accountable.  Right now they have neither, and H.3945 wouldn’t have provided it.  Ultimately, ethical government comes only when we elect ethical people.  But a strong ethics law would help hold unethical officials accountable.  The job now is to pass a law next session that does that.

Tom Davis is a Republican State Senator from Beaufort, S.C.  Vincent Sheheen is a Democratic State Senator from Camden, S.C. and his party’s 2014 nominee for governor of South Carolina.

 

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17 comments

RogueElephant June 30, 2014 at 7:27 am

News flash: The fox likes guarding the hen house. Who could have guessed ????? LOL

Reply
TontoBubbaGoldstein June 30, 2014 at 8:00 am

Anyone here old enough to remember when “Show us your papers!” was the catchphrase used to describe totalitarian regimes that were an anathema to ‘Murrican ideals?

http://www.infowars.com/oregon

How far we have *progressed.

Reply
euwe max June 30, 2014 at 1:30 pm Reply
TJ June 30, 2014 at 8:12 am

“The people of South Carolina deserve better than this.”
Well, considering that they are the ones who choose, tolerate, and re-elect the corrupt, then no, they don’t…

Reply
Inciteful June 30, 2014 at 8:17 am

Until “outsiders” review the ethical issues of those in elected office, Judges are appointed by a process outside of the legislative process, and full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is required of all our elected officials; South Carolina will continue to be the worst performing state in ethical practices.

Reply
idcydm June 30, 2014 at 8:21 am

Ethical Politician…oxymoron.

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CNSYD June 30, 2014 at 8:41 am

“The version of H.3945 debated this month
in the Senate had a section requiring disclosure of income sources, but
not the amounts received from those sources — information vital to
assessing whether a lawmaker has a conflict of interest.”

A dollar amount determines conflict of interest? What is that amount?

Reply
Smirks June 30, 2014 at 8:52 am

Any ethics bill propped up by our legislature should be highly suspect.

If the shady dealer offers a low price, read the fine print.

Reply
GrandTango June 30, 2014 at 9:26 am

This site is very topical and/or it’s ignorance-based. Not very pertinent or realistic.

Anyway: Much better reads on http://scdigest.blogspot.com/

Reply
YallCalmDown June 30, 2014 at 11:38 am

Dude, give it up.

Reply
Thomas June 30, 2014 at 9:51 am

Why is this so difficult? Here is my proposal. Drop the Senate Ethics Committee. Drop the House Ethics Committee. Reformulate/amend the SC Ethics Committee (1991 Ethics Act) to have rotating seats of 15 SC County Sheriffs. There are 46 County Sheriffs. Each year, 8 seats in the reformulated/amended make up of the SC Ethics Committee is rotated out by installing 8 more County Sheriffs. You have 15 permanent seats on the SC Ethics Commission. Every year, you rotate 8 seats. Any complaints of wrong doing is sent to the SC Ethics Committee for 15 County Sheriffs to review. Meetings can be held in Columbia using closed circuit ETV hook ups for Sheriffs who can’t get to Columbia. Or they can use their squad cars to drive to Columbia. Or use their helicopters even the state planes. If they find criminal behaviors, ask SLED for an investigation. Send the SLED report to the SC Attorney General for prosecution. Other than that, complaints are heard by 15 County Sheriffs where they determine if complaints are civil (assess fines) or criminal (SLED report/AG prosecution). Problem solved.

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G.O.B. June 30, 2014 at 12:51 pm

SC Sheriffs? Have you seen/heard how many of our Sheriff’s have been in trouble lately?

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Ha ha June 30, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Thats the funniest damn thingIve heard in awhile.The County Sheriffs?

Hell theyre one of the few groups that can make the Legislature look like paragons of virtue!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Reply
Buddy Miles June 30, 2014 at 5:29 pm

For that opinion, you deserve a “Cannon slap”.

Reply
Thomas June 30, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Very funny. The SC County Sheriff is a duly elected Constitutional Officer. Give them a 12k bump in pay to babysit the General Assembly.

Reply
Thomas Jefferson Was Right June 30, 2014 at 9:57 am

Real ethics reform is tossing every single member of the house and senate into a cesspool. Otherwise, its all a waste of time. All they do is rewrite in different words, but its the same old same old. Investigation must be done by a board of 24 members from the public sector with NO political ties. Can’t anyone understand we are dealing with a criminal enterprise here?????

Reply
john dozier June 30, 2014 at 1:10 pm

SC Ethics=Lift the rug higher and sweep faster!

Reply

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