As corruption probe continues, some lawmakers want South Carolina politics to be more transparent | News


COLUMBIA — As the corruption investigation into South Carolina politics enters its fifth year, several state lawmakers are pushing for more transparency in the Statehouse — again. 

Several members of the House and Senate introduced legislation in the past two months that would shed more light on politicians’ campaign accounts, their personal sources of income and, possibly, their income taxes. 

The round of bills introduced for the 2018 legislative session is only the latest attempt by several state lawmakers to reform South Carolina’s ethics laws in the wake of a corruption probe that has led to seven indictments thus far — six of them against current or former lawmakers. 

“Right now there is a cloud of suspicion over the entire House and Senate,” said Sen. Mike Fanning, a Democrat from Great Falls who filed an ethics bill earlier this month. “The vast majority of people in the House and Senate have nothing to hide.” 

In past years, lawmakers altered the state’s ethics laws by expanding sources of income that lawmakers and state officials must disclose to the public. They also, for the first time, gave the State Ethics Commission the power to monitor the House and Senate, which had policed themselves to that point. 

Lawmakers like Rep. Gary Clary, R-Central, don’t think those measures went far enough. The former circuit judge filed a bill this month that would require lawmakers to disclose any money they or their family members received as part of an arrangement with an organization that has lobbyists in the Statehouse. 

Clary said lawmakers need to pass a variety of ethics reform to reassure the public that the people they send to Columbia are there for the right reasons.

“The ethics laws have been so lax in South Carolina for so long,” he said. 

Last session, another ethics bill sponsored by Clary and Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, D-Lancaster, never reached a subcommittee in the House. That legislation, if passed, would shed light onto “dark money” groups that currently don’t  disclose their donors to the Ethics Commission, even as they seek to influence elections. 

On the other side of the Statehouse, a couple senators are also offering up their own ethics reform. Fanning and Sen. William Timmons, R-Greenville, have both sponsored legislation to change how political candidates disclose their campaign’s banking records

Both senators want the ethics commission to have direct access to campaign bank accounts, instead of lawmakers submitting reports on their political contributions and expenditures. They also propose to collect fees from each campaign account to fund the ethics commission’s work. 

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, has a similar bill filed in the House

Timmons also wants to give the ethics commission the power to obtain lawmakers tax returns if two-thirds of the commission’s members decide they are needed in an investigation. 

“I think it’s pretty obvious why this is necessary,” Timmons said. “We have a major problem in Columbia.”

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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