Two months ago, this media outlet exclusively reported that powerful South Carolina state legislative leader Bill Sandifer was the focus of an ethics investigation into pay-to-play allegations leveled against him by a North Carolina-based lobbyist.
Late last week, there was an update in Sandifer’s case …
According to reporter Nick Reynolds of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier, the complaint against Sandifer has been referred from the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC) to the office of S.C. fifth circuit solicitor Byron Gipson.
This referral was reportedly made because SCSEC officials determined “probable cause” existed to investigate Sandifer – but a four-year statute of limitations had expired making it impossible for them to bring charges.
Why is there a statute of limitations on public corruption charges?
Good question … but anyone who has followed “ethics investigations” in the Palmetto State knows this system has been rigged in favor of misbehaving politicians for some time. That’s why our media outlet has challenged lawmakers to scrap their current system and replace it with one which closes influence peddling loopholes, imposes independent oversight and accountability, demands disclosure of complaints (and their resolutions) and dramatically strengthens penalties for violators.
Specifically, our media outlet has called for “mandatory minimums” for elected officials determined to have broken the public trust.
“The Palmetto State hasn’t had a real overhaul of its ethics laws in three decades,” I wrote back in 2020. “It is frankly past time that overhaul took place. It is also past time for real teeth to be added to these laws, so that the public can have restored faith in the impartiality of our criminal justice system.”
As it stands now, though, politicians have what amounts to free reign …
In Sandifer’s case, the 78-year-old chairman of the powerful House labor, commerce and industry (LCI) committee has been accused by lobbyist Ricky Little of withholding action on a piece of legislation as part of a shakedown for campaign funding.
According to a copy (.pdf) of an ethics complaint we were supplied with, Sandifer first initiated a pay-to-play conversation with Little “in 2017/ 2018” related to a bill that would have required automobile insurers to include “appraisal clauses” in all new policies and required repair shops to “follow the manufacturer’s instructions on auto body repairs for vehicles produced (since) 2015.”
“I had a meeting with Chairman Sandifer about the bill,” Little wrote. “At the time we were trying to get a hearing on the bill. Chairman Sandifer ask me about money. I was caught off guard by his actions. I played along in the conversation. He gave me his home address for payment.”
Little said he never paid Sandifer, who has been sitting on the bill ever since.
According to the document, Little has “tried to meet” with S.C. House speaker Murrell Smith about problems with Sandifer “numerous times” – to no avail.
“I never ever though I would be doing this but I can’t allow this to continue,” Little added. “We will not be extorted to get the right thing done.”
According to Reynolds’ story, state representative Joe White has tried to revive the legislation – without success.
“When I asked Mr. Sandifer about the bill, he basically said, ‘I’m too busy to worry about things like that,’” White told the reporter. “He just seemed disinterested to me. But he’d been there a lot longer than I have, so I didn’t try to press him.”
This is not the first time Sandifer has been accused of self-dealing. In fact, he is well-known at the S.C. State House for his special interest servitude – namely the extent to which he has reflexively done the bidding of Charlotte, N.C.-based power provider, Duke Energy. Several years ago, Sandifer was involved in a scandal involving improper contributions allegedly received from the utility. In that instance, a Duke executive sent a letter to Sandifer’s constituents informing them the lawmaker was “work(ing) with us to ensure your best interests.”
Duke referred to the mailing as “an allowed in-kind contribution.”
Sandifer has represented S.C. House District 2 in rural Oconee and Pickens counties since 1995. He is seeking another term in office in 2024 and as of the third quarter of this year had an estimated $42,000 in his reelection treasury – a hefty sum for a rural State House race. Sandifer faced only write-in opposition in 2022 – but his opponent drew an impressive 11.65 percent of the vote last fall.
Irrespective of the disposition of the ethics allegations against him, Sandifer is expected to face a credible GOP primary opponent in the June 2024 election.
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 (soon to be eight) children.
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