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Exclusive: Another SC Judicial Election Scandal

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IS A SUPREME COURT CANDIDATE USING YOUR MONEY TO BUY A SEAT ON THE BENCH?

Over the years this website has broken open numerous scandals involving the election of judges (most of them liberal judges) by the S.C. General Assembly.  Repeatedly, we’ve documented how state lawmakers cannot be trusted to fill these positions.

From the selection of judicial candidates by a legislatively-controlled committee to the actual legislative voting – the entire process is rigged.

We’ve repeatedly called on lawmakers to fix this – either by surrendering judicial appointments to the executive branch (i.e. the governor’s office) or by allowing the public to vote.

Almost anything would be preferable to the current system …

Anyway, we were hoping 2017 might be the year lawmakers elected a new justice to the S.C. Supreme Court without their being some major scandal associated with the election.

Boy, were we wrong …

Earlier this week, the notoriously corrupt S.C. Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) announced that it had selected three finalists for the upcoming vacancy on the bench: Circuit court judge Diane Goodstein of Summerville, S.C., circuit court judge George C. “Buck” James of Sumter, S.C. and chief administrative law judge Ralph King “Tripp” Anderson of Florence, S.C.

We reported on the three finalists (here) and even had a follow-up piece on some of the political calculus associated with the upcoming race (here).  Our next step?  Researching the three candidates and commending one of them to lawmakers.

During that process, we stumbled upon something very interesting …

Several lawmakers reached out to this week us telling them they had been contacted about this race by a lobbyist with close ties to uber-liberal S.C. Senate president Hugh Leatherman.

(Click to view)

Hugh Leatherman

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

No surprise there, right?

Leatherman lobbied aggressively on behalf of Anderson’s candidacy when he ran for another vacancy on the court earlier this year, so it makes sense he would be pulling every lever at his disposal in an effort to get Anderson elected this go-round.

Of course the name of the lobbyist allegedly making the calls on Leatherman’s behalf – Richard Davis – rang a bell with us.

Davis’ modus operandi at the S.C. State House is no secret.

“His clients are leaned on to contribute the most to Leatherman, and in return Richard promises special access,” a source familiar with the set-up told us.

In this case, though, it appears as though we’re dealing with something more corrupt than mere garden variety “influence trading.”

Last year – in researching a case involving former S.C. Rep. Kenny Bingham – we stumbled upon dozens of payments made by Davis on behalf of his many lobbyist principals to a company reportedly owned in part by Bingham.

These payments totaled tens of thousands of dollars …

One of the lobbyist principals involved in this ethically questionable arrangement?  The S.C. Administrative Law Judge Division.

(Click to view)

bingham-administrative-law-judge-001

(Cap via S.C. State Ethics Commission)

According to our sources, Davis’ lobbying contract for this taxpayer-funded agency totals at least $20,000 a year – and is personally approved by the chief administrative law judge (i.e. Anderson).

Of course Davis isn’t paid to lobby for the agency (which has an annual budget of roughly $1 million).

No …

“Anderson expects Davis to lobby for his Supreme Court judgeship,” our source said.

Hmmm … this would certainly explain why so many lawmakers tell us they are being approached by Davis in connection with this race.

This website has made its views on taxpayer-funded lobbying abundantly clear on numerous prior occasions.  We oppose the practice: Unilaterally and unequivocally.

In fact we oppose it precisely because of situations like this one, in which taxpayer money is basically being used to hire a lobbyist (who in turn is funneling at least some of that money into the pockets of the very lawmakers whose votes he is seeking).

Shameful …

Once again, we would call on lawmakers who claim to be serious about ethics reform to do away with this corruption once and for all.  Specifically, we would call on them to scrap the current system of electing judges and replace it with either gubernatorial appointment or popular election.

Scandals like this only further erode the people’s faith in their institutions.

(Banner via iStock)

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