Ethics reform bills stall in the Senate

Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, speaks in the Senate chambers during the first day of legislative session this year at the Statehouse in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — Senators attempted, and failed, to move two ethics bills forward Thursday before cutting their floor debate short and heading to meetings to deal with the state’s budget.

Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman was unsuccessful in getting senators to move a bill regulating funds spent by outside groups on campaign materials — also known as “dark money” — into a priority spot for debate. The move required two-thirds of the Senate’s 46 senators to vote in favor of the motion. It failed 26-16.

“I think you heard me earlier this week from the podium talk about I’m going to do everything in my power every chance I get to pass the dark money bill,” said Leatherman, R-Florence. “What I see is the dark money wants to pour money into this state, into the House and into the Senate, back to the person that they think they can control after they get them elected, pure and simple.”

Senators seemed to pick up steam this week after a four-year quest to pass ethics reform. On Wednesday they gave second reading to a bill that will require public officials to disclose private sources of income.

However, a motion by Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, to give the bill a third and final reading failed when Camden Democrat Sen. Vincent Sheheen objected.

For four years, legislators and supporters seeking ethics reform have sought to implement changes addressing independent investigations, disclosure of private sources of income and reporting of funds spent by outside groups on campaign materials.

“I told my leadership this morning that getting ethics reform through the Senate is about like watching an iceberg melt,” Martin said. “We’ve got a meaningful opportunity to get ethics reform done. There’s still time to get it done.”

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.