Haley takes the lead on ethics reform
There’s been a lot of discussion about the need for ethics reform by legislative candidates on the campaign trail, but so far it’s just talk. The ethics reform committee named Thursday by Gov. Nikki Haley should help ensure that all that chatter is translated into action next legislative session.
The committee is charged with developing a list of ethics reforms for the Legislature to consider before the end of January. That deadline will provide plenty of time for the lawmakers’ consideration, even as the House and Senate work on their own reform proposals independently.
The fact that the committee is being chaired by former attorneys general Travis Medlock and Henry McMaster gives it a heightened profile and credibility.
So does the varied experience of committee members. They include Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association; former Rep. Ben Hagood, a Charleston Republican; Susi McWilliams, former chair of the State Ethics Commission; and Charles Bierbauer, dean of the University of South Carolina’s College of Mass Communications and Information Studies.
But surprisingly, the committee already is being criticized by some of the same watchdogs who have been calling for ethics reform, including Common Cause and the S.C. Policy Council. Common Cause Director John Crangle described it dismissively as the governor “second effort” to get out front on the ethics issue.
Certainly someone needs to provide leadership on the ethics front. The Legislature hasn’t done much to improve ethical standards and practices in the 20 years since the legislative scandal known as “Lost Trust.”
As Mr. McMaster observes, the ethics rules that were approved following that cash-for-votes scandal were among the nation’s strongest at the time. But he insists that existing rules are no longer adequate to ensure public confidence in government.
The committee is an independent body whose work will be its own — not the governor’s.
It will, however, seek recommendations from the public in two hearings yet to be scheduled.
“We will be looking for any good ideas,” Mr. McMaster says.
There already are a number of good ideas that are being advanced from several quarters, including the elimination of the separate House and Senate ethics committees. Those panels deal with ethics complaints regarding their fellow legislators in each respective chamber.
The situation has been uncharitably likened to the fox guarding the henhouse. And certainly it doesn’t inspire confidence, which must be an essential component of any ethics reform.
Stronger requirements for full and timely disclosure of information related to the campaign contributions, for example, will go a long way toward providing a meaningful level of oversight and accountability.
New rules would apply generally to public officials, not just legislators. But the General Assembly is responsible for passing them.
This committee will put the Legislature on the spot for ethics reform. That’s exactly where it needs to be on this issue in the next session.