In a major defeat for transparency in government, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled 4-1 this week that crony capitalist chambers of commerce are not subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – overturning a lower court ruling which classified these taxpayer-subsidized bureaucracies as public bodies.
Translation? These entities are no longer required to disclose information to the public. Even though they are collecting – and dispensing – public money.
Crazy, huh? We certainly think so …
The suit in question was brought by DomainsNewMedia.com, a company owned by Lowcountry resident Skip Hoagland. It was filed against the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, an entity with which Hoagland has had a long-running feud.
“The trial court held that the Chamber was a public body and, thus, was subject to FOIA’s provisions,” justice John Kittredge wrote for the majority. “We reverse. We hold, as a matter of discerning legislative intent, that the General Assembly did not intend the Chamber to be considered a public body for purposes of FOIA as a result of its receipt and expenditure of these specific funds.”
Wait … discerning legislative intent?
More on that momentarily …
“While the Chamber technically expends public funds, we are firmly persuaded that the General Assembly did not intend the Chamber to be considered a public body for FOIA purposes based upon its receipt and expenditure of accommodation tax funds,” Kittredge wrote.
Last time we checked legislative intent wasn’t the issue. The issue was whether these entities received and dispensed tax dollars – which they do. Nonetheless, liberal chief justice Donald Beatty concurred with Kittredge – as did fellow liberal Kaye Hearn. So did recently elected justice George C. “Buck” James.
Dissenting? Justice John Few.
“It requires no elaborate analysis to apply the plain words of the FOIA and reach the conclusion that the Chamber’s agreement to expend these public funds renders it a public body subject to the record disclosure requirements of the FOIA,” Few wrote.
We agree …
Few also rebuked his fellow justices for bending the law to suit their purposes.
“The majority has employed an elaborate analysis to avoid the plain language of the FOIA under the guise of ‘discerning legislative intent,'” Few wrote. “However, our law does not permit us to look outside the language of a statute unless there is an ambiguity in the statute.”
Few argued that since the other justices did not acknowledge any such ambiguity, the lower court ruling should have stood.
A few thoughts …
First, it goes without saying the plaintiff in this case – Hoagland – is one of the most insufferably antagonistic and menacingly vulgar people we have ever had the displeasure of knowing. Years ago we described him as being “less than adept at advancing his cause in a credible and consistent manner.” Turns out that was an exceedingly charitable assessment of the man.
Hoagland’s hate-filled missives have clogged email inboxes around the state for years … recently prompting our founding editor to block him from spewing his vitriol in our direction.
He’s the very last person who ought to be advancing such an important issue …
Having said that, Hoagland isn’t the issue here. The issue is the case his firm brought before the court – and this atrocious ruling issued in response to it.
The bottom line here is truly frightening: In South Carolina, shadow governments have free reign.
They can receive – and spend – your money with impunity. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Additional enabling of such arrangements is the very last thing a state as corrupt as this one needed …
Don’t believe us? Click here.
Of course it’s actually much worse than that.
It’s not just that the Supreme Court has determined taxpayers have no right to see how their money is being spent, it’s that they had to bend the law to get there. That sort of activist conduct from the judiciary bodes poorly for future cases involving similarly clear violations of the law.
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our stories? Please feel free to submit your own guest column or letter to the editor via-email HERE. Got a tip for us? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE. Want to support what we’re doing? SUBSCRIBE HERE.