South Carolina’s current ethics laws do not go far enough in protecting the public’s interest and ensuring that they have the ability to enjoy a fair and just political process.

Time and time again we see special interests, whose pockets are deep and influences are great, have a disproportionate impact on decisions in government.

Equal access to decision makers is essential to our democratic process. Yet citizens continue to find it difficult to have elected officials hear their voices over the voices of high-powered lobbyists and unreported payments to officials that can create conflicts of interest.

It is very reasonable for the public to fear that these influences lead officials to act in the interests of their benefactors rather than in the best interests of their constituencies. The public needs to know who is attempting to influence officials at all levels of government and who is paying them.

Well-funded “independent” political action committees (PACs) fueled by anonymous donations are a serious problem that distorts our political process. Some PACs take the integrity out of our political process by waging negative campaign tactics against candidates while providing no information about who is behind them.

Heated competition in any political race is to be expected, but slanderous and inappropriate messaging directed against candidates by groups that are backed by large sums of anonymous money does nothing to enhance our political process or inform our constituents of the best candidate for the job.

Citizens have the right to know who is behind these campaign ads.

Another form of PAC, “leadership PACs” created by public officials, also make it impossible to trace the money in politics from its source to the candidate whom it benefits.

The public has the right to know.

It is our responsibility to ensure a fair and just political process where all citizens have a voice and equal access to government.

Accountability and transparency are the two most powerful tools we have for preventing corruption in government; as elected officials we have a duty and responsibility to uphold these values and ensure South Carolinians are fairly represented.

Citizens must have confidence in our ability to lead with integrity and build a stronger South Carolina where money and power do not always sit at the forefront.

Therefore it is essential that we work toward ethics reform in South Carolina that puts the citizen’s interest above all else.

It is most important that we advocate for disclosure rules that support the public’s right to know what their government officials are doing and whose interests they are representing.

Joseph P. Riley Jr. is mayor of Charleston. Stephen Benjamin is mayor of Columbia.