Gov. Nikki Haley sought to take a stand on ethics reform Wednesday, on a tour of four cities (Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Greenville and Columbia) where she introduced five bullet points that she wants to see accomplished in 2012-2013 legislative session.
They are (partial notes provided by Haley's office):
- No Incumbent Exemption for Elections Filings: All candidates for public office – whether incumbent or non-incumbent – should be required to file the same forms for candidacy. Current state law must be clarified to avoid incumbency protection and to promote a democratic election process.
- Mandatory Conflict of Interest Recusals by Lawyer-Legislators: Recusal requirements for legislators appearing before boards on behalf of private clients should be strengthened to prohibit conflicts of interest and improper influence.
- One Ethics Commission for all Public Officials: Current ethics review processes lacks coordination - public integrity oversight agencies do not have a coordinated approach to investigating and prosecuting ethical misconduct. They also lack credibility - legislative ethics committees police themselves and their colleagues. Therefore, it’s time for a constitutional amendment to expand the State Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction to include members of the General Assembly and dissolve the legislative ethics committees.
- Total Income Disclosure for Elected Officials: Income disclosures empower the public to hold their elected officials accountable. Current state law does not require elected officials to disclose private sources of income.
- Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Applies to All Branches of Government: According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, forty-six states have FOIA laws that are stronger regarding disclosure of legislative records.
The governor has faced criticism and challenges in the past year on the last three of these, on claims against her as a House member.
"Through everything I've been through in the past year, I don't want any other person to have to go through I had to go through," she said. "This is protecting those in political office to know they did the right thing and, if questioned, having one avenue on how that goes forward."
Attorney General Alan Wilson joined Haley on the tour, but focused his comments on trying to address enforcement issues regarding political abuse.
Haley's plan also calls for equitable treatment of incumbents and challengers in campaign filing. Hundreds of candidates were forced off the primary ballots earlier this year because of a filing requirement that exempted incumbents.
"We want to make sure the filings are the same. This is about getting more people involved," Haley said. "This is not about incumbent protection."
Haley went on to criticize Sen. Jake Knotts (R-Lexington) for uncovering a loophole in campaign filing protocol and filing the suit that led to candidates across the state being removed from ballots. When the senate tried to pass legislation that would have removed the loophole, Knotts blocked it on a procedural grounds.
"If you want to get to the heart of the problem, it's Jake Knotts," Haley said. "The idea that one person could keep two hundred candidates off the ballot is terrible."
The governor's proposal also called for mandatory conflict of interest disclosures. "Bottom line, we think the people of South Carolina deserve better," she said.
Wilson proposed a public integrity unit that will allow agencies to collaborate investigation efforts on day one, including state law enforcement, Department of Revenue, the Ethics Commission and the inspectors general office.
"A lot of times you have duplicative efforts," he said. "There's not a sharing of intelligence. There's not a sharing of resources."
It wouldn't be a new department, but an understanding between departments that they would work together in ethics cases.
Wilson noted he has been working with ethics leaders in the General Assembly on the ways to improve enforcement. "I'm happy to say there is a commitment to reforming ethics laws in our state," Wilson said. "We're all working on many issues of ethics reforms."
Haley said she expects that the House and Senate will come up with their own plans, but she wanted to lead with her own, independent proposal for reforms.
"This is a start," Haley said. "I know we're going to see additions and changes before ethics reforms is passed."
John Crangle of South Carolina Common Cause said that ethics reform proposals from Haley were fine, but much more is needed. “The real problems are a result of campaign fundraising and the governor’s proposals don’t address that at all,” Crangle said.