Former Gov. Mark Sanford: Ballot Mess A 'Travesty'
The bill signed by the former governor has led to consequences no one could have foreseen.
When then-Gov. Mark Sanford signed H3066 into law on May 28, 2010, it seemed to be a positive step forward in the state’s quest to be more transparent and less ethically-challenged.
But that's not what happened, Sanford recently told Patch.
Instead, “the bill basically turned into an incumbency protection program,” he said.
“I think it’s a travesty. It was supposed to allow for greater information about candidates to taxpayers.”
Current Gov. Nikki Haley has referred to the ballot mess of the last few months as an “embarrassment” on several occasions and expressed gratitude that the story had not received national attention.
A blogger for The Nation named it one of the most underreported stories of the summer.
H3066 (viewable here) was introduced by Nathan Ballentine (R – Richland), had then state Rep. Haley as one of its chief sponsors, and had bi-partisan support. The bill required candidates to forward campaign documents to the State Ethics Commission using an “Internet-based system.” In other words, candidates had to register their Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) forms and Statement of Intention of Candidacy (SIC) online.
The bill was supposed to complement a law from decades earlier that mandated candidates present paper copies of the SEI and SIC.
Instead, the interpretation of the two laws has led to one of the biggest ballot controversies in South Carolina history, if not the entire country.
A May ruling by the Supreme Court found that candidates who did not follow both the previous law and the one Sanford signed in 2010 to be ineligible. More than 200 candidates were removed from ballots. Nearly 150 eventually qualified as petition candidates, they will be at a disadvantage in a state with a penchant for voting the straight party ticket.*
Among the findings of the Supreme Court was that incumbents did not have the same filing requirement since they had completed certain pieces of paperwork in previous campaigns.
For Sanford, the episode confirms his belief that the General Assembly has simply become concerned with its own self-interests.
“I saw it over and over while I was governor,” Sanford. “Laws were created to make it more difficult for the new guy but to not create problems for the people in office. To me, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
Sanford explained that H3066 went through all the usual channels: sub-committee, full committee in both chambers and then on to the full House and Senate for a vote. During this process no one noticed that it created a loophole that could be exploited.
Still, even the most Machiavellian of politicians could not have anticipated that the Supreme Court would rule so broadly and impact races other than the one which it was ruling.
In Sanford’s mind, the Supreme Court is part of the problem.
“I’m not accusing anybody of anything, but we have an unusual arrangement here in South Carolina where the courts are appointed by the legislative body and they were required to make a ruling about incumbents," he said.
Sanford said he’s long-believed that the relationship between the legislative branch and the judicial branch needs to be reviewed. Except there is very little impetus for such a change.
“We have an all-powerful legislature that affects the other branches of government and they benefit from the status quo,” he said. “The people who have the power want to keep it and the average guy isn’t even aware a problem exists.”
Sanford pointed out that loopholes exist in many laws. They don’t become a problem until someone acts on it. And that’s where Sanford, much like Haley, lays the blame for the controversy at the feet of Jake Knotts (R –Lexington).
It was an associate of Knotts that filed suit against Katrina Shealy — Knotts’ rival for Senate Seat 23 — that led to the matter being decided by the Supreme Court.
“This whole thing wouldn’t have happened if the case hadn’t been raised by supporters of Jake Knotts and Knotts just happened to hold an influential position with the judiciary committee,” Sanford said. “The alignment of a couple of things caused this ballot wipeout.”
Sanford thinks that the entire political system in South Carolina needs more balance, but does not expect that to happen any time soon. He’s more optimistic that the ballot loophole might be closed.
“But even then it will be after incumbents have served two or four more years,” he said.
*CORRECTION - This sentence originally stated that a "few dozen" candidates made it back on to the ballot. That was incorrect. As a couple of readers have noted (see comments below), upwards of 150 candidates were approved by the State Election Commission. A complete list is HERE.