Ethics reform now faces an uncertain fate in South Carolina after a much-debated bill was significantly watered down without a vote in the state Senate on Thursday.
An amendment that would have required legislators to report all sources of income they receive was ruled out of order Thursday by Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster. McMaster ruled the amendment violated Senate rules because it improperly created an entirely different section of law than the original House version, which only focused on how legislators could be investigated for alleged campaign or ethics violations.
Gov. Nikki Haley lashed out at the removal, saying in a Facebook post that reform was killed by fellow Republican McMaster and State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, an opponent of the bill who raised the initial “point of order” that the amendment could violate Senate rules. “It is amazing the level elected officials will go to avoid disclosing who pays them,” Haley posted. “Never did we think that this Lt. Governor would help the Senate kill income disclosures.”
Malloy angrily snapped back in his own statement, accusing the governor having “the time to post on social media when our roads and bridges are falling apart, our schools are not fully funded and rural hospitals are closing because of her failed leadership.”
“Bless her heart. It seems to me that Governor Hypocrite Haley has a bad case of short term memory loss,” he said. “It was not too long ago that the Ethics Committee in the South Carolina House of Representatives white washed hearings on Representative Nikki Haley for her failure to disclose her own income.
Senate rules require that all amendments be “germane” to the original bill. For example, a senator cannot propose an amendment targeting drunken driving in a debate on proposed sales tax legislation. McMaster defended his ruling after the session, saying the original House bill made no mention of income disclosures.
The governor has made ethics reform a top priority to pass during her administration, and income disclosure had been a large part of her efforts. South Carolina laws currently only require those seeking office to report income they receive from government sources or groups and businesses that lobby state government. Thursday’s amendment would have expanded that to include all private sources, but not the dollar amounts.
“You can’t find a citizen in South Carolina that doesn’t think we should do this,” Haley told reporters earlier in the morning. “Legislators should have to report who pays them. It is that simple.”
But Democratic opponents have accused the governor of hypocrisy, noting she skirted around the same ethics law by not reporting income she received from a hospital nonprofit seeking approval to expand and an engineering firm that was trying to land a state
It’s unclear what will happen next on the ethics legislation, which would still authorize the independent State Ethics Commission to investigate complaints against legislators. Currently, those complaints are handled by the respective House or Senate ethics committees. The new legislation would keep the investigations secret until the commission determines whether a violation occurred. The respective legislative committees would then determine punishment. The proposal would also toughen the penalties for misuse of campaign funds, making it so that any violations above $2,000 would be reclassified as a felony.
Ethics Committee Chairman Luke Rankin, R-Horry, said the bill now lacks transparency. “Yes I want ethics reform. I want a clean bill, but I want one with clean hands and a clean, clear conscious so I can sleep at night,” Rankin said on the floor of the Senate Thursday.