South Carolina first circuit solicitor David Pascoe wants the presiding judge for the state’s grand jury to release a “full, unredacted” version of a report prepared this spring by the grand jurors who investigated #ProbeGate, a lengthy investigation into corruption in state government.
In a motion (.pdf) submitted this week to S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman, Pascoe argued that the redactions contained in the previously released report “do not threaten any constitutional rights” and that “the public’s interest in disclosure of the redacted portions greatly outweighs any interest in continued censorship.”
We concur …
In fact, attorneys for this news outlet’s founding editor – Will Folks – have made it know that they are seeking these unredacted documents in connection with an ongoing libel suit filed against Folks and FITSNews.com by lawmaker-turned-lobbyist Kenny Bingham.
That trial is tentatively scheduled for late January, with Bingham reportedly planning on calling one of the former lawmakers who was forced to resign from office and plead guilty to a corruption charge as his star witness.
(Click to view)
Exclusively unearthed by this news outlet, #ProbeGate revolved around the political empire of Richard Quinn (above) – one of the most influential corporate and political strategists in Palmetto State history. It led to the indictment and resignation from office of four influential elected officials – former majority leader Rick Quinn (Richard Quinn’s son), former House speaker Bobby Harrell, former Senate president John Courson and former House majority leader Jimmy Merrill.
A fifth defendant – former House judiciary chairman Jim Harrison – was convicted of misconduct in office and perjury and sentenced to eighteen months in prison back in October. Harrison was supposed to report to prison late last month, but circuit court judge Carmen Mullen let him off the hook – controversially allowing him to remain free while he appeals his conviction.
That decision was panned by this news outlet.
A redacted version of this report – released in October – concluded that Quinn’s firm unlawfully sold “influence and access” to wealthy special interests.
“Corporate entities retained Richard Quinn for the purpose of gaining access to and influence over public officials, and by failing to report Quinn’s services, influenced the outcome of legislative matters with no accountability or disclosure to the public,” they wrote.
They further concluded that “independent expenditures and ‘dark money’ have a significant influence on the outcome of elections because the General Assembly has failed to address statutory provisions that were deemed unconstitutional many years ago.” They also argued “existing laws regulating the ethics of public officials, candidates for office, and lobbying activities are weak,” and called on state lawmakers to “strengthen the weapons available to prosecutors.”
We agree … on all counts.
Grand jurors also objected to lawmakers’ longstanding self-policing arrangements, arguing “state ethics laws should be strengthened to contain provisions which require suspension and removal from office without the supervision of the General Assembly.”
We concur with that recommendation wholeheartedly. In fact, we have been pushing for precisely such independent oversight for the better part of the last decade.
The document also delved extensively into the role of political consultants in South Carolina, fearing influence-peddling networks similar to the one created by Quinn “could easily be repeated.”
“Without any oversight or disclosure, a political consultant is free to engage with corporations and special interests groups to advise them regarding conversations his conversations with his political clients,” the grand jury report concluded. “Further, the political consultant is free to communicate political advice to his political clients that may align with the interests of those corporate clients who pay a monthly retainer.”
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