Since January of 2013, more than two dozen bills related to ethics have been introduced to the S.C. Legislature. Two have become law.
Another 15 have been referred to House committees and seven to Senate committees.
Two have passed the House, and only one has passed the Senate.
Certainly some of the bills are complicated, and some need amending. Further, ethics reform bills are not the only ones the Legislature is juggling.
But it is difficult to think of a topic that is more important. Ethical government is the underpinning of a state that is duty- bound to serve its citizens responsibly.
Unfortunately, many members of the Legislature appear less than enthusiastic about actually enacting ethics reform.
Indeed, Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, told our reporter Jeremy Borden that "some of the nitpicking ... is veiled opposition to the whole idea."
The senator was speaking specifically about his commendable push for an independent ethics commission to investigate ethics complaints against members of the Senate and House.
It is difficult to justify the present process of dealing with charges of ethics violations: A committee of the House investigates its fellow members so charged, and a committee of the Senate investigates its fellow members.
Friends helping friends?
Or punishing foes?
So instead of demonstrating their opposition to reform by dismissing Sen. Campsen's proposal for an independent commission, members quibble over who would serve on the panel.
Other bills that deserve attention include one to clarify campaign contribution reports required by candidates for election by the General Assembly; one to establish a public integrity unit to coordinate investigation of activities affecting ethics; one to prohibit campaign staff, fundraisers and members of committees organized to influence the outcome of campaigns from being transported in state-owned vehicles and aircraft; and one that identifies additional economic interests that must be disclosed.
Another critical issue that needs to be addressed is the independent adjudication of ethics complaints against legislators. All other elected officials in the state are judged by an independent panel, and so should legislators.
John Crangle of Common Cause has advocated for ethics reform for decades. He is concerned about how campaign funds are being used because of too much latitude in the law.
In short, legislators have enough ethics reform issues to study for quite some time.
But the excess of ideas should not be an excuse to put off doing anything. It should, instead, illustrate the critical need for ethics reform.
And it should convince lawmakers to get serious about debating these issues and making state government fully accountable to the people it serves.
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