Just days after a national good-government group declared South Carolina one of the most at-risk states for corruption in the country, a state judge has dismissed a wide-ranging lawsuit accusing Gov. Nikki Haley of multiple acts of corruption.
The lawsuit, which was filed late last year by wealthy Republican power-broker John Rainey, alleges that Haley illegally lobbied on behalf of her former employers while a state representative. Rainey, who served on former Gov. Mark Sanford’s Board of Economic Advisors, has called Haley “the most corrupt person to occupy the governor’s mansion since Reconstruction.”
Fifth Circuit Judge Casey Manning, who dismissed the lawsuit on Wednesday, said a courtroom “is not the place to hash out ethics issues,” according to the Associated Press.
Yep, you read that right. Less than two weeks after Lt. Gov. Ken Ard pleaded guilty to multiple ethics violations in a Columbia courtroom, a judge said such a place isn’t the proper venue to discuss possible ethics violations by Ard’s former boss.
In actuality, a courtroom is one of the only venues for such charges that isn’t tainted by the stench of corruption which permeates South Carolina politics, as the Center for Public Integrity showed in their comprehensive analysis of the state ethics system. Palmetto Public Record reported on Monday how the good government group gave South Carolina an F, naming it one of the worst states in the country for potential corruption.
Part of the problem stems from South Carolina’s toothless Ethics Commission, which has seen its budget reduced by 60 percent over the last 13 years. In addition, the House Ethics Committee — which is where Rainey’s lawsuit against the governor is now headed — contains five Republicans and just one Democrat. As a benchmark, Congressional ethics committees are evenly split between parties regardless of who’s in the majority.
“It’s the fox guarding the hen house, and it needs to stop,” commented Rep. Boyd Brown (D-Fairfield), a strong advocate for ethics reform in the Palmetto State.
Of course, some top Republicans seem to think the state’s plethora of corrupt officials is actually a good thing. “[Scandals] make people look at folks and say, ‘Now they are just like me. They are fallen and they make mistakes, too,’” SCGOP Chair Chad Connelly told The State on the day Ken Ard was indicted.
House Democrats disagree with Connelly’s cynical perspective, however, which is why they have unveiled a package of ethics reform laws aimed at reducing the considerable opportunity for corruption in South Carolina. Elements of the package, which was announced on Tuesday by reps. Boyd Brown, James Smith and Leon Stavrinakis, include the following:
- Term limits for all members of the General Assembly
- A statewide recall bill for public officials
- Eliminating the House and Senate ethics committees and giving their authority to the State Ethics Commission
- Requiring lobbyists to report their tax returns online
- A two-year ban on legislators and government employees becoming lobbyists
Good government advocate John Crangle, who runs South Carolina’s chapter of Common Cause, said Democrats’ ethics reform package is a good start, but is still inadequate because it doesn’t address campaign fundraising from special interests during the legislative session. Even so, it’s telling that no State House Republicans were willing to stand behind an ethics reform package that needs plenty of GOP support in order to fight corruption in South Carolina.
“Democrats can’t do this alone,” Stavrinakis said on Tuesday. “We need our Republican colleagues in the General Assembly to wake up, join this effort and realize that if we lose the public’s trust, we lose it together.”