A pair of ethics-related bills cleared the South Carolina Senate on Wednesday, with supporters saying it presents the best chance in at least five years to reform how the Statehouse reports and investigates potential wrongdoing.
One bill would expand the powers of the State Ethics Commission so that it could investigate potential wrongdoing or campaign violations by legislators. Currently, the agency can only investigate members of the executive branch, local governments, and lobbyists. Non-criminal investigations into legislators are done currently by the House and Senate ethics committees.
Another will require all candidates for any office in South Carolina to list all their private sources of income, but not the total amount. Right now, politicians are only required to list income they receive from government or other public sources. Supporters say the disclosure lets the public know more about potential conflicts of interest from their elected officials.
The Ethics Commission expanded to nine members under the legislation, with four members chosen by the governor, two each from the House and Senate and a final slot picked by the state attorney general. At least four of the members could not be from the governor’s party. Members also could not have donated to their appointing lawmaker.
As an effort to make the bill pass, senators decided to only list sources of their income instead of total amounts. They rejected an effort to list incomes by ranges (for example, $50,000-$100,000).
A spokeswoman for Gov. Nikki Haley praised the passage of both bills. Haley has been a prominent supporter of both income disclosure and independent investigations, although some of her opponents note her support came after a House ethics investigation into her own career. The governor was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing by the committee.