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How Ethics Complaints Get Handled In SC




|| By FITSNEWS || A private citizen who questioned whether a pair of South Carolina Senators were misusing campaign funds was told not to discuss the allegations with anyone – and then threatened with legal action in the event he pursued the charges.

Gotta love that “good ol’ boy” system, huh?

The citizen – whose name was redacted from the documents provided to FITS – questioned whether dozens of gasoline purchases made by liberal Senator John W. Matthews were legitimate uses of campaign funds.  A separate letter questioned whether liberal Senator Luke Rankin‘s subsidization of charitable organizations with campaign funds was permissible.

To be fair to Matthews and Rankin, state ethics law expressly provides for these sorts of expenses … although they have been routinely abused in the past (especially the charitable exemption).

But that’s not the point here …

The point is the committee sent this particular citizen a nasty-gram (two nasty-grams, in fact) informing them that the “disclosure of confidential information pertaining to an ethics compliant can result in prosecution by the Attorney General.”

“Therefore, please refrain from discussing this matter with anyone,” one of the letters stated.

Wow … we wonder if S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson, who has made a name for himself fighting corruption, knows that lawmakers are invoking his name in an effort to silence citizen complaints?

Hmmmm …

One of the letters also informed the shell-shocked citizen that “the Committee will not respond to any further correspondence from you alleging ethics violations that is not in the form of a sworn compliant.”  In other words, they intend to force the citizen to assume legal liability for the substance of the allegations – which strikes us as an effort to intimidate other citizens from filing similar complaints in the future.


This is not how the system should work … which is why we’ve been arguing for years that legislative self-policing must end.  If it doesn’t, lawmakers will simply continue protecting their own – and continue browbeating anyone who dares to suggest they may be behaving unethically.

In this case we don’t necessarily think Matthews or Rankin did anything wrong … but the State Senate’s effort to silence and intimidate the individual who questioned their campaign expenses (which appears to be boilerplate bullying) is extremely troubling.

Citizens who question their government officials should be thanked … not threatened.  And their complaints should be heard by an independent panel empowered to investigate and uncover the truth in public – not via the secretive scandal-erasing process lawmakers’ have habitually exploited in an effort to protect themselves from the consequences of their self-serving behavior.


Pic: Travis Bell Photography


UPDATE: Wow. Apparently this complaint filer got off easy by comparison.