Unfortunately, both versions of H.3945 still allow for self-policing in the legislature. We need you to contact the six legislators at the bottom of this email and tell them the self-policing has to stop.
“State lawmakers appear willing to pass a watered-down ethics reform bill that continues to allow legislators to police themselves. We question whether a bill that doesn’t contain a provision for an independent oversight commission composed of non-legislators is even worth passing.” 1
H. 3945 was introduced over two years ago, and has been touted as the most important piece of legislation this session. Since then, the House Speaker has been the subject of a state grand jury investigation for illegal use of campaign funds and using his office for personal gain. Based on a questionable interpretation of the current law, one judge has ruled that because the case did not go before the House Ethics Committee – the Speaker’s friends – the grand jury cannot continue.
“For more than two years now, our legislators have been promising to improve our ethics law, which does not require enough disclosure, does not prohibit enough self-serving actions and does not provide serious enough enforcement.” 2
H.3945 could show taxpayers – not to mention the rest of the nation – that lawmakers are serious about real accountability. Remember, current ethics laws are so weak that even the chief prosecutor for South Carolina, the Attorney General, is not able to investigate criminal charges against legislators without legislative approval.
“And just when we thought our Legislature couldn’t get any less interested in making sure that whatever law they pass is enforced, Judge Manning blew up the ultimate enforcement mechanism, declaring that the attorney general can’t prosecute legislators for profiting from office unless they give their permission, through their self-policing Ethics committees.” 3
Efforts to stop self-policing for the legislature have been prevented. This weekend, newspapers from around South Carolina called for a stronger ethics reform bill. We agree with them. Without real independent oversight, H. 3945 doesn’t fix the biggest problem with ethics laws.
“Already the bill has been diminished by the absence of an independent body for judging those violations. It is a cliché that retaining House and Senate ethics committees is like having the fox guard the henhouse. But it is nonetheless true.” 4
Below are links to the legislators that are part of the conference committee for this bill. Please call or email them and let them know that South Carolinians are tired of the self-policing in the Statehouse and deserve true independent oversight.
Remember, the conference committee meets tomorrow morning so be sure to call or email early!
1 – “State ethics bill is too weak.” The Herald [Rock Hill, SC] 31 May 2014
2,3 – Scoppe, Cindi “Is the ethics bill worth passing? It depends.” The State [Columbia, SC] 31 May 2014