By Paul Gable
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appointed a special commission this week to make recommendations on ethics reform in South Carolina governments.
The 11 member commission, created by executive order of the governor, will have until January 28, 2013 to draft an “ethics blueprint” recommending new and/or stronger ethics laws.
Commission members will look into freedom of information, campaign finance and practices, conflict of interest and ethics enforcement by state and legislative ethics panels.
On the surface this sounds good and is certainly needed in South Carolina, a state that is ranked at or near the bottom of all states in ethics and freedom of information by the independent Center for Public Integrity.
The current S.C. Ethics Commission, which oversees local and statewide elected officials as well as publicly appointed officials around the state, essentially has become a body that checks for late filing on required public disclosure documents. The commission has made news with large fines, mostly late filing fees, on public officials around the state. But, finding where the commission has conducted a real investigation into serious ethics violations comes up empty, in our opinion.
Even worse, the House and Senate ethics committees might as well not exist for all the actual alleged ethics violations by legislators that they actually investigate.
Haley, herself, was given a ‘free pass’ by the House Ethics Committee this year for alleged ethics violations she committed while a House member. The committee conducted no investigation into the governor’s alleged violations and had no presentation of the evidence against Haley before voting to dismiss the charges against her. It didn’t even take testimony from the person who filed the charges.
Haley’s appointment of the commission looks like grandstanding. Any ethics reform legislation must be passed by both houses of the General Assembly. Regardless of what the commission recommends, the House and Senate will have the final say of what really changes, if anything.
This looks more like Haley beginning to realize she won’t be receiving any important appointment in a Romney administration, so it’s time to begin working on her 2014 re-election bid.