As testament to South Carolina’s governmental philosophy of putting off tough decisions for as long as possible, state senators on Wednesday deferred a bipartisan whistleblower protection bill that’s being targeted by at least two powerful South Carolina lobbying groups.
The South Carolina False Claims Act, sponsored by state senators Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw), Jake Knotts (R-Lexington) and Gerald Malloy (D-Darlington), protects employees who blow the whistle on workplace wrongdoing from being retaliated against by their employer. As an incentive, the bill would also allow whistleblowers to keep 10 percent of any monetary damages recovered from the employer.
The Free Times’ Corey Hutchins in December outlined the tremendous amount of embezzlement and fraud which occurs in South Carolina, writing that 73 state officials and employees were convicted of public corruption between 1998 and 2007. In 2009, the former finance director of the Department of Social Services was convicted of organizing a fraud ring which stole over $5.5 million from the agency.
One of the reasons that number is so astronomical, according to Knotts, is employees’ reluctance to come forward. “They don’t want to put their job in jeopardy out of fear of retribution,” Knotts said, and in the meantime “people’s tax dollars are being stolen and misused.”
While Common Cause of South Carolina Director John Crangle has no illusions that the legislation will completely end the culture of corruption in South Carolina, Crangle tells Palmetto Public Record it will at least incentivize whistleblowers to speak up about wrongdoing in their workplace. “It would have a very powerful deterrent effect,” commented Crangle.
Subcommittee chair Larry Martin (R-Pickens) spoke out against the incentive included in the bill, apparently trusting that employees will be compelled to report fraud out of a sense of altruism or public duty. But as Hutchins’ story in December and Knotts’ testimony on Wednesday clearly showed, that just hasn’t been happening.
“The people that are cheating the taxpayers need to get weeded out,” Malloy told his fellow senators. “Who would endorse people stealing from the government?”
Crangle says the bill’s opposition includes the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the South Carolina Manufacturer’s Alliance, two powerful lobbying groups that represent big business in the Palmetto State. “They don’t want to give employees any more rights than they absolutely have to,” Crangle added.
But as one supporter of the bill put it, honest businesses should be demanding a law that strongly protects the state’s tax dollars. And given South Carolina’s history of businesses fleecing the taxpayers, it makes you wonder what they have to hide.
Knotts said further discussion of the bill could continue as soon as next week. As usual, count on Palmetto Public Record to let you know what happens.