If there is one thing we can count on coming out of Horry county, South Carolina, it is a steady stream of corruption, incompetence, malfeasance, mismanagement, anti-competitiveness and overall piss poor governance.
Seriously … if it isn’t gratuitous self-dealing it is galling incompetence. Pick your poison.
It’s a daily game of either/ or when it comes to the Palmetto State’s “corrupt coast.”
“South Carolina is one of the most interminably corrupt states in America, and one of its most interminably corrupt regions is the Grand Strand – a once-popular tourism destination which is home to all manner of habitual local governmental fleecing,” our founding editor Will Folks observed in a column posted last January.
Last month, though, Horry officials outdid themselves in terms of self-serving behavior when they allowed the county’s estimated 2,500 bureaucrats (and their chosen “designees”) to jump in line and receive Covid-19 vaccinations ahead of the general public.
Again … not really. Not in Horry county.
This week, sources on the coast tell us embattled county council chairman Johnny Gardner – who entered office in 2018 amid allegations of an extortion plot against local “economic development” officials – is staring down a fresh set of ethical problems.
Gardner managed to avoid (ahem) criminal charges in connection with the economic development fiasco, but he has since come under fire for failing to file statements of economic interest during his tenure in office – among other things.
As we noted at the time, Gardner’s failure to file these routine disclosure statements was especially troubling given his campaign’s reliance on dubious loans from his former business – the Johnny Gardner law firm. At last count, Gardner still owed an estimated $80,000 on these controversial loans, which he claims were legally made during the 2018 election cycle.
Were they legitimate loans, though? Or did the law firm serve as a pass-through to conceal the true source of the money?
(Click to view)
According to our sources, Gardner (above) will have a chance to defend the loans before the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC) – which is reportedly moving forward with an investigation into their true origin (among other reported issues with Gardner’s campaign finance disclosures).
We do not know yet who filed the ethics complaint against Gardner. Nor do we know whether the inquiry extends beyond the loans.
Sources familiar with the case tell us a hearing is in the process of being scheduled related to the matter, however.
Will anything come of this investigation?
Doubtful. Given the utter failure of this agency in recent years to refer any cases to the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson for criminal prosecution … our suspicion is Gardner is about to enter a protracted negotiation with the state over an appropriate amount for a fine.
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Which is sadly predictable …
In other words, a government agency that does nothing but dole out wrist slaps is about to socialize some percentage of the Gardner campaign’s allegedly ill-gotten gains.
Does that sound like a fair resolution to this scandal?
To be clear: This news outlet’s founding editor has absolutely zero faith in the ability of the SCSEC to hold any government official in the Palmetto State accountable … for anything.
After all, this entity is a toothless watchdog on its best day. On its worst day? It is an enabler of the sort of financial chicanery that would make a mob boss blush.
“(The SCSEC) has little in the way of real authority when it comes to enforcing campaign finance laws in the Palmetto State – and has proven unable or unwilling to exercise the limited power it does have,” we noted last year.
And legislative ethics scandals? The way they are handled is an even bigger joke … sort of like the state’s ethics laws themselves.
How to fix that? Duh … pass tough laws. And then insist that elected officials who step out of line face actual consequences for their bad behavior. Not “consequences in name only.”
Anyway, we will keep our readers up to speed on the latest developments in the Gardner case as soon as we are able to gather more information on the complaint filed against him.
Stay tuned …
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