Fourteen-and-a-half years ago, I penned what is still regarded as one of the most comprehensive reform blueprints the state of South Carolina has ever seen. And while I am sure I could whip up a better list were I to undertake such a project today, my ‘95 Theses’ has provided plenty of enduring wisdom to point back to over the years.
Not unlike my legendary humility …
Anyway, consider thesis No. 43:
No member of the S.C. General Assembly, their immediate family or a campaign contributor shall be eligible to serve as a paid or contract employee of the state.
Nifty, huh? Codifying this thesis would have not only knocked out nepotism … it would have cut off a key avenue of the insidious pay-to-play favor factory which facilitates so much of the smash-and-grab corruption in South Carolina’s ethically challenged (and results-challenged) state government.
Sadly, leaders in the S.C. Senate and House of Representatives have not deigned to pass such a law – or anything resembling it. Instead, they have continued to fuel the favor factory by appointing their relatives and campaign contributors to influential (and well-paid) taxpayer-funded positions.
I wrote about the latest (and arguably greatest?) example of this earlier this month … but this is nothing new. Because this is South Carolina. Where nothing ever changes.
Five-and-a-half years ago, I called out this incestuous practice again via a subtle column entitled ‘End Neptism Now.’
“Any ethics reform package passed this year by the S.C. General Assembly must include draconian new restrictions on relatives of lawmakers (and former lawmakers) getting state appointments,” I wrote at the time. “We are sick unto death of politicians telling us how they support ethics reform … only to watch their kin folk get high paying gigs on our dime.”
Again, though … nothing changed.
And so the nepotism and favor-trading has continued.
(Click to view)
Two weeks ago, I wrote on efforts by S.C. House judiciary committee chairman Chris Murphy (above) to have his wife – circuit court judge Maite Murphy – elevated to the state supreme court. Murphy has already gotten his wife on the bench – and installed his brother, Michael H. Murphy III, as a magistrate judge.
Not content with these favors, he is now engaged in a no-holds-barred bid to install his wife (whose name is apparently pronounced “my-tay”) as the next ‘nil ultra’ judge. Given the rampant judicial corruption this news outlet has exposed over the last few years, it is hard to imagine legislative leaders engaging in anything quite so tone deaf as putting the wife of a powerful committee chairman on the supreme court.
And yet here we are …
Also, as I noted in my previous report, Murphy is being anything but subtle about his machinations on behalf of “my-tay.” According to several of his colleagues who spoke with me on condition of anonymity (citing fear of reprisals), he has been “strong-arming multiple lawmakers into pledging their support for his wife’s candidacy … with some success.”
Specifically, Murphy’s colleagues have told me of his “acrimonious reactions” to the handful of lawmakers who have told him “no” or “not yet.”
Such conduct is repugnant.
“Murphy has absolutely no business even discussing this race with his colleagues – let along pressuring them to support his wife,” I wrote in my initial treatment of this scandal.
Several lawmakers noted a distinct contrast between Murphy’s inappropriate advocacy and the hands-off approach taken by former judiciary chairman Peter McCoy – whose wife Jennifer McCoy was elected by lawmakers as a circuit court judge in 2018.
“He never said a word,” one legislator told me, recalling that race. “You would have thought he didn’t even know his own wife was running.”
To be clear: I am not saying McCoy’s wife getting a seat on the bench was any more or less contemptible than Murphy’s wife receiving the same favor. Both deals were equally reprehensible, in my estimation.
But McCoy had the decency not to threaten his colleagues into going along with his nepotism scandal …
It has been a difficult year for Murphy. He was seriously ill back in February (a reported case of diverticulitis) but rather than hand off his committee’s gavel – as he should have done – the work of this influential panel ground to a halt during his illness and convalescence. Now that the committee has ramped back up to address the abortion debate, Murphy has earned the ire of speaker Murrell Smith over his mistreatment of several lawmakers who spoke up against the total abortion ban he is supporting.
“He is becoming a problem for leadership,” one judiciary committee member told me last week.
I concur … but the Murphy scandal is merely a symptom of the disease. Were the speaker to remove him from his chairmanship – or force his wife to abandon her supreme court candidacy – it would quell the outrage and calm the waters. But only for a while.
And so I will say again what I have been saying for the past decade-and-a-half: It is time – past time – for state lawmakers to enact a prohibition against nepotism as part of a comprehensive ethics reform package.
With faith in the integrity of our institutions scraping the bottom of the barrel (again), it is incumbent upon those in power in the Palmetto State to take bold steps to restore public confidence – not continue eroding it so their relatives can get powerful gigs at the people’s expense.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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