ANOTHER INDICTMENT OF THE PALMETTO STATE’S LAX CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST REPORTING LAWS …
A few years ago this website exposed a direct link between powerful S.C. Senate leader Hugh Leatherman and millions of dollars in state transportation contracts. None of that income was disclosed by Leatherman on his required financial disclosure documents.
And of course nothing has happened in the aftermath of our reporting … (well, except for Leatherman becoming even more powerful by virtue of his 2014 election as Senate president).
Anyway, this week reporter Ron Aiken of The Nerve has a report up regarding additional lack of disclosure on the part of the all-powerful legislative leader.
According to Aiken’s report, Leatherman, his wife and related companies “own more than $2 million of real estate in Florence County, but you won’t find those holdings anywhere on Leatherman’s official Statement of Economic Interest form required by law.”
To his credit, Aiken isn’t focused so much on Leatherman’s latest effort to hide his assets as he is the broader failure of the state’s “disclosure” laws – namely the weakly worded requirements for Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) forms, the refusal of elected officials to disclose potentially incriminating information and the total lack of enforcement over these failings.
“In theory, SEIs identify potential conflicts of interest by showing where an elected official or senior government employee receives money and disclose any business or financial interests that may benefit from the officeholder’s position,” Aiken reported. “In reality, SEIs are little more than a list of gifts and state benefits, with the personal interest disclosure section worded so vaguely and filled-out so poorly by respondents that they stand as perhaps the least-policed financial documents in state government because in South Carolina, the policing entity for the form’s accuracy isn’t the state Ethics Commission but legislators themselves.”
The most significant impediments to exposing – and stopping – public corruption in South Carolina remain the self-policing legislative “ethics” committees that hold exclusive authority over probing the alleged misdeeds of state lawmakers.
As we wrote earlier this year …
… this website has been fighting for years to not only expose the corruption itself, but more importantly the self-policing system that perpetuates it. We’ve also aggressively exposed the “reforms in name only” lawmakers have put forth as part of a backdoor effort to muzzle criticism of their chronic self-dealing … while giving the appearance of doing something to promote “public integrity.”
What a joke.
We’ve tried to hold this system accountable – and are taking shots because of it.
State lawmakers? They’ve continued to cash checks and evade accountability for their actions. Meanwhile the state’s top prosecutor – S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson – has been disturbingly selective in his promised pursuit of public corruption.
The result of all this? A state which literally breeds corruption.
Will anything change?
Don’t count on it … rather than pushing for ethics reform that eliminates this corrupt self-policing mechanism, lawmakers have instead pushed laws aimed at silencing dissent. In fact only one state lawmaker – S.C. Rep. Kirkman Finlay – has made comprehensive income disclosure a priority in recent years.
That has to change … but again, we’re not holding our breath.