A specially appointed panel Monday said the state could go from one of the worst in the nation to the best when it comes to ethics enforcement.
Former Attorney General Henry McMaster co-chaired the study group appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley, which was charged with finding ways to improve the ethics environment of state and local governments. The group has been meeting since late October of 2012.
He said, “We think that what we have provided here is the answer…and it will be very difficult for any conflict of interest or improper activity to not be discovered.”
The person panel made twenty-three recommendations in the following areas:
1. Create independent oversight of ethics laws: expand enforcement powers of and restructure the membership of the State Ethics Commission to treat all public officials the same and improve coordination of criminal investigations with the new Public Integrity Unit of the State Attorney General’s office.
2. Strengthen conflict of interest laws: require disclosure of all public and private sources of income to promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest; prevent personal gain from using undue influence in the appointment and elections of board members; regulating lobbying at the local level in front of school boards, municipalities, and counties.
3. Clarify election laws and strengthen campaign finance laws: clarify the process of candidate filings; limit how campaign funds can be used; and abolish leadership PACs.
4. Increase transparency: shorten the initial Freedom of Information request response from fifteen businesses to seven calendar days to avoid unnecessary delay by government bodies; remove the legislative exemption to provide Freedom of Information to all three branches of government; and reduce the burden on citizens by making costs lower and more uniform and by using the state Administrative Law Court to create an easier mechanism to address complaints.
To defray the costs of an expanded State Ethics Commission, the group recommends that all lobbyists register with the State Ethics Commission, no matter what level of government they lobby–from school boards to the statehouse.
In response to the findings of the panel she appointed, Governor Nikki Haley said, “If their recommendations are adopted, South Carolina will move from being among the worst states on government ethics to one of the best states. It’s that simple. Now it is up to members of the General Assembly to move the ball forward.”
That is the next step for the commission and the part that worries commission co-Chair Travis Medlock the most. The former SC Attorney General told the media Monday, “We must be vigilant in continuing to observe how this legislation moves through the General Assembly… and if the legislature enacts any or all of this legislation, that is not the end of it.’