State House

What A Witch Hunt Looks Like

Desperate to hoard every last penny of your money, South Carolina senators try to oust one of the few remaining independently elected taxpayer advocates …

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A clique of South Carolina senators launched their impeachment campaign against independently elected state treasurer Curtis Loftis this week, hosting a sham hearing in which he was repeatedly accused of failing to do a job which is constitutionally entrusted to another state official.

With fiscally liberal state senator Larry Grooms leading the way, a Senate subcommittee spent more than nine hours assailing Loftis with a barrage of allegations related to job duties which constitutionally fall to the office of the state’s comptroller general, Democrat Brian J. Gaines.

To recap: Last year, former S.C. comptroller Richard Eckstrom resigned from his independently elected post in disgrace after his office failed to account for a $3.5 billionanomaly” in the state budget. Gaines replaced him, but not before Grooms initiated a legislative coup which has had profound – and profoundly deleterious – consequences on the Palmetto State’s finances. Namely, it has spawned a concerted, multi-year effort by lawmakers to hoard an unexpected, previously unidentified $1.8 billion surplus exclusively reported by this media outlet back in February.

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Following Eckstrom’s resignation as comptroller, members of the S.C. House of Representatives – and a handful of senators – sought to install businessman Kirkman Finlay III as his replacement. With Finlay vowing a public audit of the comptroller’s office – which would have almost certainly uncovered the $1.8 billion surplus – senators led by Grooms procedurally blocked a vote on his appointment, allowing “Republican” governor Henry McMaster to install Gaines instead.

Grooms knew about the existence of this money months ago – and said nothing.

Why the silence?

Because he knew there would be public pressure to return every penny of it to taxpayers … which, of course, there is.

As I previously reported, an estimated 1.44 million working South Carolinians would receive average rebates of as much as $1,250 were lawmakers to return this latest “anomaly” to them in its entirety. Finlay – who is currently running for the S.C. House – has endorsed these rebates. Loftis has championed them, too, along with several of Grooms’ colleagues in the S.C. Senate.

I have championed them, too …

“Individuals, taxpayers, and small businesses are struggling mightily right now,” I noted months ago in breaking the news of this surplus. “This pot of money could be a lifeline for these taxpayers and businesses – and the people who are relying on them to make ends meet.”

Grooms doesn’t want to give the money back. In fact, he’d rather not have that debate at all. Accordingly, he has convened a kangaroo court in the hopes of pinning the blame for this whole fiasco on Loftis – and making sure this money stays in state coffers (even though lawmakers are are blowing through a record $38.8 billion in the current fiscal year budget – and are set to blow through a record $40.1 billion the coming fiscal year).

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S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 during a Finance Constitutional Subcommittee meeting concerning $1.8 billion that has been discovered in an account. (Travis Bell/STATEHOUSE CAROLINA)

“Mr. Loftis has lost control of the treasurer’s office,” Grooms stated this week, accusing the treasurer of “suppressed reporting” and “misrepresentations” of the state’s financial situation.

“Mr. Loftis has abrogated his responsibility,” Grooms added. “He has breached the public trust.”

Really?

Last time I checked it was the job of the comptroller general to balance the books – and to report to lawmakers on the state’s finances. It is the job of the treasurer to invest the state’s money and cut checks.

“The Treasurer is the state’s bank and responsible for investing funds, whereas the comptroller general is the state’s accountant,” Loftis noted last week in a letter (.pdf) to lawmakers. “The General Assembly itself has recognized and codified the separation of powers and responsibilities, including the oft-repeated designation of the comptroller general as the ‘state accounting officer’ in the annual budget provisos for that office.”

Loftis has done his job – the comptroller has not. Indeed, both the former and current comptroller have failed miserably in discharging their duties.

In December 2022, Eckstrom issued a report to lawmakers which included a $3.5 billion “downward restatement” of available cash in the Palmetto State’s general fund (the “anomaly”). At the same time, he transferred $1.8 billion to the general fund – and effectuated a separate $517 million transfer – without consulting or notifying the treasurer.

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RELATED | SURPLUS SAGA: ORIGIN STORY

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“The comptroller general’s office did not communicate with the state treasurer’s office prior to making this adjustment,” Loftis noted.

Last fall – in a classic “cover your ass” move – the new comptroller penned a letter to Loftis asking him to “research cash balances,” a curious request coming from the individual who is responsible for maintaining and reporting on those balances. Loftis was able to verify that no money was missing, and that the $1.8 billion transferred by Eckstrom was not only intact, but lawmakers had already spent nearly a quarter billion worth of accrued interest on the money.

Loftis further confirmed that his office was “not made aware” of the transfer until “over six months after the comptroller general adjusted the funds” in December 2022.

“If there was any question about where these funds belonged, the comptroller general should never have moved them,” Loftis added, pointing out there were “many instances where the use of the $1.8 billion could have been, but was not disclosed by the comptroller to the General Assembly.”

Clearly there were also plenty of opportunities for Grooms to alert the public to the surplus prior to our exclusive reporting seven weeks ago.

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Sen. Stephen Goldfinch questions S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 during a Finance Constitutional Subcommittee meeting concerning $1.8 billion that has been discovered in an account. (Travis Bell/STATEHOUSE CAROLINA)

Nonetheless, Grooms and several of his fiscally liberal uniparty colleagues – including “Republican” Stephen Goldfinch and Democrats Margie Bright-Matthews and Thomas McElveen – attempting to puppeteer this saga in an attempt to impose total legislative control over the state’s ostensibly independent financial offices.

They are doing so in the name of “oversight.”

Let’s call it what it really is, though: A witch hunt. One focused on removing a pro-taxpayer official so the big government gravy train can keep a-rolling. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: GOP politicians (like Grooms) continue to campaign as “conservatives,” yet they have been growing government faster than taxpayers’ ability to pay for it for decades, repeatedly ignoring calls for broad-based income tax relief while consistently embracing bloated, ineffectual bureaucracies and failed crony capitalist schemes.

Loftis correctly blasted Grooms and several of his colleagues who participated in the hearing as having “no appetite for the truth.”

“Today was the most disappointing day of my adult life,” Loftis wrote on social media. “The Senate hearing was a farce as there was no interest in truth or facts. None.”

That’s disappointing. But the real problem? The fact these senators have no interest in giving this $1.8 billion back to the people it belongs to … the taxpayers of South Carolina.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

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 and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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9 comments

Tom April 3, 2024 at 10:47 am

Corrupt Republicans accusing corrupt Republicans of being corrupt. The Republican Party is a joke. They stand for nothing. Like their chosen leader, Republican politicians think South Carolinians are dullards easily manipulated by their hatred or disdain for anyone who does not share their skin color or their religious beliefs. They are probably right on that front, and they should know. They have been doing it for three decades now. But they also think politics is just a game to accumulate money and power for yourself (another thing their leader has taught them) and they rely on the hate and disdain to get the public to overlook that.

When South Carolinians stop hating and start looking at what is best for their state and their country that will change. When will that be? Sadly, it will not likely be soon. As Trump once said, “I love the poorly educated.” Our state is so steeped in hate and anger that they wildly support as their religious leader the most profoundly non-Christian man to ever achieve the office of President.

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CongareeCatfish Top fan April 3, 2024 at 11:28 am

You obviously haven’t heard of the Second Great Migration, in which minorities, particularly blacks, have been moving back in to southern states in droves, because they’ve come to realize that tropes about “hate” that trolls like you try to pander are actually false. And as to South Carolina, not only have we been one of the top 3 destination states every years for the last 7 years, we probably lead the nation in legal interstate migration of minorities. People don’t upend their lives and move out of state to be in a place they regard to “steeped in anger and hate.” So on one hand we have your clueless, evidence- free leftist propaganda, and on the other hand there is a mountain of cold hard facts showing you to be very, very wrong.

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jbl1a April 3, 2024 at 11:41 am

Corrupt RINOs accusing probably the most conservative member of SC state govt. Nothing but a blame game and of course the SC general assembly is never culpable. smh

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Mina Harrington Top fan April 3, 2024 at 6:31 pm

I have a LOT of respect for Curtis Loftis and trust him. This isn’t his first battle with the uniparty at the State House. One thing I really don’t understand is why in the world would McMaster appoint a liberal democrat to be the Comptroller. All he has done is make things worse.

I watched that fiasco of a hearing with Curtis Loftis. I was totally LIVID!!! And it really concerns me that South Carolina is going the way of a lot of other states that have become liberal and now are in serious trouble financially. Thanks for reporting on this!!

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Observer (the real one) April 3, 2024 at 9:18 pm

Curtis Loftis is probably the most honest politician in this state, probably in multiple states. He is a blessing to the taxpayers of South Carolina. Part of me would like to see him be Governor one day, but the other part knows we could never find a replacement as State Treasurer as good at the job as he is.

I hope Grooms has opposition and is defeated when next he has to run. How dare he berate a man of Curtis Loftis’ caliber?

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Bryan April 4, 2024 at 5:52 am

Do you ever notice there is always a liberal in the middle of controversy? Don’t forget some of these people with R’s by their names are liberals too. Anybody remember “Operation Lost Trust”, if we had a honest FBI, it would be time for another sting operation! Grooms needs to be replaced along with a lot of establishment politicians!

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AC Top fan April 4, 2024 at 7:06 am

Who are the four members of the committee in the picture posted with the story

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Franklin Causey Top fan April 4, 2024 at 10:53 pm

So

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Franklin Causey Top fan April 4, 2024 at 10:54 pm

Grooms, I believe the woman is a staff member, Goldfinch

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