South Carolina’s Supreme Court says the ethics investigation into Gov. Mark Sanford’s travel cannot be kept secret. The ruling released Thursday afternoon clears the way for an investigative report by the Ethics Commission to be given to lawmakers who may consider impeacment.
The court also denied the request from the South Carolina House to require the Commission to give a copy of the report to House members. And the court’s decision also acknowledged that Sanford has a request before the Ethics Commission to block the report’s release.
Sanford had argued the no material from the Ethics Commission report should be released before the Commission’s full report on his case is released. The high court said the governor’s agreement to waive confidentiality applies to nearly everything in the case generated by the Commission.
Election Commission Executive Director Herbert Hayden was pleased with the court’s ruling. He says it supports the interpretation that the Commission has had all along.
Hayden says his organization can now continue with its task of investigating the Governor and places the task clearly in the hands of the Commission.
The high court pointed out that the South Carolina House has the ability, as a constitional body, to subpoena any information they want, so impeachment is not dependent on the Commission’s report or its release. Hayden says Commission members have always known that.
“That’s been a given from the beginning,” said Hayden. “So regardless of whether the report can go voluntarily to the House prior to impeachment, they can subpoena the reports and investigators for testimony.”
House Speaker Bobby Harrell has said that lawmakers will not move forward on impeachment until they see the Commission’s report on Sanford’s travel and campaign finance issues.
“From the beginning of this process Governor Sanford promised the public that this would be an open and transparent investigation,” said Harrell in a press release. “We were extremely disappointed when the Governor attempted to reverse his transparency promise to the public by suing to keep this investigation secret. The Supreme Court made the right decision in holding Governor Sanford to his pledge for openness in this process. As we have consistently stated over the past several months, any official action of the House needs to be based on impartial facts, free from political motivations. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue, we will give full consideration to the facts presented in the Ethics Commission’s report and use that as a basis for any further official action.”
Senator David Thomas has led a Senate subcommittee, which like the Ethics Commission, has been looking into the Governor’s business travel. Thomas says he’s looking forward to seeing the Ethic’s Commission “take” on Sanford’s travels. He agrees with the court’s decision.
“I didn’t see that legally the Supreme Court had another option,” said Thomas. “It didn’t make sense that, on one hand, he released all this information two months ago, opened it up to public scrutiny, then changed his mind and takes it before the court, so now I think the Supreme Court has correctly ruled.”