Lower S.C. 'corruption index'
A national report released this week contends that South Carolina suffers from a lack of ethical rules, oversight, public disclosure and adequate limits to political contributions. The gravity of its findings should encourage the scrutiny of our state's elected leadership and the people they govern.
Former Santee Cooper chairman John Rainey invokes the "State Integrity Investigation" in his column on this page, and briefly describes some of its conclusions. He also cites ethical shortcomings related to income reporting by public officials, based on his own experience with the state Ethics Commission.
The report describes the "corruption risk" index for South Carolina as one of the five worst in the nation. It was based on research by two watchdog groups -- the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity -- both based in Washington, D.C.
Lawmakers should look beyond the snide, dismissive narrative that accompanies the chapter on South Carolina, and consider the accountability problems it sets forth. And they should do so in the spirit of bipartisanship, rather than using the report as a political bludgeon.
A good place to begin would be the flawed in-house legislative oversight of its own membership.
The absence of independent review for complaints related to the General Assembly says lawmakers are insufficiently committed to ethical oversight. The House and Senate each has a committee to investigate ethics complaints against its own membership.
The state can only hope that the general absence of reported transgressions in the House and Senate reflects the actual ethical well-being of the legislative branch, and not a reluctance of those committees to take the critical view.
One apparent problem cited in the report is the precipitous decline in funding for the state Ethics Commission, which oversees ethics issues involving public officials other than legislators. It points out that appropriated funding for the commission has declined from $725,000 in 1999 to $284,000 currently. The report described the agency as "understaffed, underfunded and widely thought to lack teeth."
The state's elected leadership needs strong ethics rules but also a body like the Ethics Commission that is sufficiently funded to oversee them.
The report also says the state's Freedom of Information Act should be stronger. And it touches on the diffusion of authority in state government that makes real accountability difficult to achieve.
You don't have to agree with the historical musings of the report's author, Corey Hutchins, to acknowledge that it raises legitimate questions about South Carolina's governance. Mr. Hutchins wrote that "to stroll through the State House grounds in Columbia, S.C., is to behold by many accounts a memorial to political failure."
And certainly, you don't have to agree with Common Cause's John Crangle, who is quoted as saying, "You might almost say that the State House grounds is a Jurassic Park; you have to be some kind of prehistoric monster in order to be memorialized over there."
Even those who disapprove of that jaundiced historical perspective should hold their noses and examine this outside analysis of how the state stacks up against the rest of the nation in the ethical arena. Certainly, Mr. Rainey's observations suggest areas for immediate legislative review and remediation.