An agreement between state Treasurer Curtis Loftis and the board that oversees billions in state retirement fund investments will be a victory for him — and for public oversight in the management of a $25 billion fund. It will mean that the treasurer has achieved his goal to serve as the people’s watchdog for the fund.
It hasn’t been easy. As noted in a recent state inspector general’s report, efforts to resolve the dispute between the elected treasurer and the investment commission have gone on for more than a year and a half, creating “workplace atmospherics that [are] increasingly toxic.”
Maybe the fog will soon be cleared. The treasurer signed the agreement last week, and the S.C. Retirement System Investment Commission is scheduled to give its formal approval on Wednesday. An accord will benefit retirement fund operations that serve hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries.
The agreement allows four designated staffers in the treasurer’s office access to data that inform the RSIC’s decisions on investments. Previously, only Mr. Loftis was allowed to review that material — a complex and daunting task, particularly in view of his other duties as treasurer.
Mr. Loftis persuasively argued that he should be allowed to use his expert staff to assist him in providing due diligence for the process.
As treasurer, Mr. Loftis automatically has a seat on the commission — a designation clearly intended to provide an oversight role on behalf of the taxpayers.
The commission argued that broader access could jeopardize the confidentiality of the process.
But Mr. Loftis is a constitutional officer, elected statewide to keep a close eye on state funds. And the retirement investment fund is one of the state’s largest.
Under the agreement, Mr. Loftis will be able to fulfill his duties in monitoring the work of the RSIC. Meanwhile, he will be responsible for the discretion of the senior staffers who will assist him.
During the long dispute with the RSIC, the treasurer has attempted to accomplish his oversight role, despite the roadblocks. His findings led him to question high management fees and comparatively low returns in recent years.
Mr. Loftis also raised red flags about RSIC employee travel and perks from the investment industry.
Inspector General Patrick Maley’s investigation found “no criminal conduct or wrongdoing” at the RSIC, but concluded there was merit in the treasurer’s complaint about undue restrictions on information to his office.
Presumably, this agreement will finally settle that rancorous issue.
“We’ve finally crossed the finish line, which is good for everybody,” said Darry Oliver, the RSIC’s chief operating officer. “It allows everybody to focus on doing their jobs.”
For Mr. Loftis, that job is providing accountability in the way public money is spent. The treasurer properly insisted on serving as a watchdog, and in the process has shown himself to be a bulldog.
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