To suggest that this week’s small turnout for a discussion on ethics reform in state government indicates a lack of interest is specious. South Carolina’s citizens want their elected representatives to be ethical and open. Just ask them.
Fortunately, Travis Medlock understands that. And the former S.C. attorney general expects the governor’s commission on ethics reform, which he co-chairs, will come up with a strong recommendation.
Most in government acknowledge the need for reform. It has been 20 years since ethics laws were examined seriously.
In addition to Gov. Haley’s commission, House Democrats and House Republicans both have established panels to study ethics reform.
And while cynics might not expect much out of the Legislature, they should recall that the House Ethics Committee this year opened up its process to the public for the first time.
The governor’s panel offers the most promise because of its impressive range of members — none of whom are presently officeholders. Henry McMaster, former attorney general, is Mr. Medlock’s co-chair.
Others represent the South Carolina Press Association and the University of South Carolina’s College of Mass Communications and Information Studies. A former chair of the State Ethics Commission is on the team, as is former Rep. Ben Hagood, a Charleston Republican known for being smart and honorable.
One topic they should consider seriously is campaign contributions — who makes them and how much they give. Reforms are essential for citizens to be assured that those who represent them are acting in the public interest.
Questions came up earlier this year about potential conflicts of interest when legislators are paid to do work for people or enterprises that in turn appeal to the Legislature for support. It certainly opens the door for unethical behavior.
Unfortunately, some elected officials would just as soon keep this kind of public business out of the public eye. Maybe they think they know what’s best and don’t want to be bothered by others’ opinions. Or maybe they aren’t quite as ethical as they’d like people to believe.
Certainly, those who are ethically challenged aren’t likely to announce it to the public.
That’s why strengthening the state’s Freedom of Information laws is essential to ethics reform.
When citizens are aware of what’s going on, they are more likely to demand greater accountability from public officials. Ultimately, there’s no better watchdog.