It appears an ethics bill requiring elected officials in South Carolina to disclose their private income will have to be hammered out in committee.
The state House on Thursday rejected the Senate’s proposal that would have just required politicians identify their sources of income, but not the amount. The House also wants to require disclosure of the exact amount that public officials earn from non-government income. However, Senate leaders say there is not enough support for requiring specific dollar amounts and hope that revealing senators’ income sources to the public will be just as effective.
“We spent a year working on our bill. We got to a very good product,” State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Columbia, said on the floor. “I must tell you that I think the Senate’s bill was put together in a very short period of time and is not nearly as well developed.”
The more controversial change would require nonprofit organizations to reveal the names of donors who provide money spent on elections and other political campaigns. Right now, state law does not regulate contributions to third-party organizations the same way it does for political campaigns. The bill’s supporters say the anonymous donations (which they call “dark money”) can influence an election.
Finlay argued it is similar to existing state laws requiring lobbyists to disclose who pays them. “We are simply asking people who are engaged in the debate… to disclose their interest,” he said. “We force people who come to the lobby to tell us who they work for and what positions they advocate. I’m simply asking that those that get involved in campaigns explain the same thing.”
But other Republicans who oppose the idea argue it’s an effective restriction of free speech because it opens up those donors to potential retaliation from elected officials. “If you’re going that these organizations disclose who their donors are, I can only conclude that it’s out of a desire to target those donors,” State Rep. Jonathan Hill, R-Townville, said.
State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, insisted the bill’s language does not violate free speech and instead encourages transparency by requiring groups that buy thousands of dollars in campaign ads to identify their interests. “This says nothing about what they can say, what they can target me with,” he told Hill. “It just simply says if an outside source is paying to get involved in my campaign, then they have to (disclose).”
Senators are unlikely to agree with either change, likely sending the bill to be negotiated in a joint conference committee of House and Senate members. Gov. Nikki Haley has made income disclosure a priority in her second term and this week repeated her urgings for legislators to send her a finished version.