Governor Sanford’s investigation by the state Ethics Commission is underway. At the same time, Sanford has challenged state lawmakers to look into their own travel expenses.
For that to happen, someone would simply need to submit a complaint about a specific member to either the House or Senate Ethics Committees. Any investigation would be private and the results of any Ethics Committee investigations in the General Assembly are rarely revealed to the public.
Unlike the rules of the state Ethics Commission currently investigating Governor Sanford, which allowed the Governor to waive his right of confidentiality, everyone is prohibited by law from revealing any actions of the Ethics Committees inside the General Assembly. That includes the person being investigated. The one exception is if an action is taken against a lawmaker.
But could that rule of privacy be a little self-serving to members of the House and Senate? York County Senator Wes Hayes chairs the Senate Ethics Committee. “Well, it could be. The law has been on the books for a long time and it could be something that we need to look at. But until that law is changed, we’re going to abide by the law.”
The Governor is one person who has already looked at the travel records of at least some of the state lawmakers, according to his challenge. Hayes says the governor can bring forth allegations if he has some. “Certainly. Any citizen of South Carolina can bring a complaint. If it has merit, we’ll investigate it. But the whole process is confidential.”
At the same time, even though the state Ethics Commission is investigating Sanford’s travel expenses, Hayes is not certain that the travel expenses of senators would be covered under the jurisdiction of his committee, unless they could be classified as inappropriate or unreported gifts.
Democratic Senator Phil Leventis of Sumter serves on the Senate’s Ethics Committee. He says if his group is called on to investigate any member of the senate, he would do so, as he always has. But he also argues that any mistakes made by state lawmakers should not be used to distract from the investigation into the governor’s expenses.
“To say that by investigating us that it will make what he did different, that’s silly,” said Leventis. “That’s the notion of ‘I can’t get the facts to speak for me so I’ll focus in on some other problem.’ There’s got to be a standard of behavior, and just because someone else behaves that way it doesn’t make yours any better.”
But what would it take for there to be a widespread investigation of the General Assembly’s travel expenses? Hayes says he doesn’t recall anything like that ever taking place. “I don’t know where we would find the resources to do something like that. And we would have to have some reason to think there were violations before we marshaled the resources to start checking everybody’s travel.”
And if such an investigation did take place, Hayes says there would have to be other revenue brought in to help. The current staff of the Senate Ethics Committee is one clerk and one attorney.