Thirty-seven members of the South Carolina Senate – including both Republican and Democratic leaders – have filed legislation calling for the removal of state comptroller general Richard Eckstrom from office.
That’s well above the two-thirds threshold necessary for giving Eckstrom the boot – in the increasingly likely event it comes to that.
The bill to remove Eckstrom from office for having “willfully neglected his duties” comes less than a month after powerful Senate finance committee chairman Harvey Peeler authorized an investigation into Eckstrom. As I previously reported, the veteran GOP office-holder is under fire for a $3.5 billion “anomaly” in the state’s general fund budget – which he first reported early last month.
According to Eckstrom, this “anomaly” was uncovered when his office began “dissecting information that hit the (state’s) accounting system” prior to the submission of a recent annual report.
“We discovered there were some differences in the way the state was accounting for cash that was transferred over to colleges and universities,” Eckstrom told a Senate panel in early February, noting these institutions were “the recipients of a huge amount of Covid money.”
“When transfers were made to the colleges and universities, the state should have recorded a reduction in its cash – and in the accounting system it did,” he said. “But when this was mapped, that reduction never got mapped. As a result, we have this $3.5 billion restatement that we made during 2022 – which is a huge number.”
Indeed, but as S.C. treasurer Curtis Loftis told me at the time, the “Eckstrom anomaly” was a “reporting issue, not a cash issue.”
“We balance the budget to the penny every day subject to third party audits,” Loftis told me. “The amount of cash we have is not affected by the reporting of the comptroller general’s office.”
Nonetheless, lawmakers are livid because Eckstrom’s error could deprive them of surplus money they are seeking to spend on bigger government. Not only that, several members of the legislature have suggested Eckstrom may have perjured himself in attempting to explain this “anomaly.” As a result, they have demanded his resignation – which Eckstrom has refused to provide.
The bill to remove Eckstrom – S. 645 – was introduced on Thursday (March 16, 2023). It was referred to Peeler’s finance committee, which is expected to advance it to the floor of the Senate in short order. Assuming the bill clears the House, governor Henry McMaster must then decide whether or not to sign it.
If he does sign it (or allows it to become law without his signature), Eckstrom would face a hearing before lawmakers followed by a decisive vote in each chamber.
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Article XV, Section 3 of the S.C. Constitution holds that “for any willful neglect of duty, or other reasonable cause, which shall not be sufficient ground of impeachment,” the governor “shall remove any executive or judicial officer on the address of two thirds of each house of the General Assembly.”
Prior to holding a legislative vote to remove Eckstrom as comptroller, McMaster would first need to notify him of the allegations against him – and permit him and/or his legal representative to participate in “a hearing in his own defense.”
If two-thirds of lawmakers voted to oust Eckstrom after that hearing, McMaster would be constitutionally obligated to remove him from office.
What are the allegations against Eckstrom? According to the bill, “from 2012 to 2017 and 2019 to 2022, (Eckstrom) certified annual comprehensive financial reports that misstated the amount of cash in the state’s general fund.”
“The revelations of these misstatements could negatively impact the State’s credit rating,” lawmakers claimed.
Eckstrom is further accused of “failing to maintain internal controls” within his office and failing to address “the existence of material weaknesses and significant deficiencies” in his accounting processes.
Eckstrom also failed “to retain necessary staff to carry out the statutory duties of his office” and has furthermore “provided answers to lawmakers that were evasive and not forthcoming.”
Eckstrom, 74, was elected in 2022 to a sixth term as comptroller. He ran unopposed in both the primary and general election cycles. In addition to his twenty years as comptroller, Eckstrom served a single four-year term as state treasurer from 1995-1999.
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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