Haley wants to abolish legislative ethics panels

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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Gov. Nikki Haley traveled across South Carolina on Wednesday unveiling a series of proposed ethics reforms, including abolishing the House and Senate ethics committees and requiring elected officials to make full disclosure of their income.

Haley, traveling with Attorney General Alan Wilson, said all ethics issues should be handled by the State Ethics Commission.

“We think only one agency should be in charge of state ethics,” she said. She added that having House and Senate members handle ethics complaints concerning their members is “the fox guarding the henhouse.”

She said it would require a constitutional amendment to give the Ethics Commission such power.

Other proposals the governor wants lawmakers to approve next year include requiring all elected officials to disclose their income, having the same candidacy filing requirements for incumbents and challengers, and requiring all state agencies to be subject to the state Freedom of Information Act.

State lawmakers currently have exemptions from open records law. Haley cited the exemption during her 2010 campaign, though she eventually allowed reporters to view requested e-mails in her office.

Haley said the ethics proposals resulted from the recent controversy she found herself in.

The House Ethics Committee cleared her in June of allegations that she illegally lobbied for an engineering firm and a hospital while in the House.

But the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of the GOP activist who accused the governor. The appeal concerns whether a state judge was correct in dismissing a lawsuit against Haley and sending the matter to the Ethics Committee.

“I don’t want any other person to go through what I went through,” Haley said.

She said the problem caused this year when incumbents were allowed to file campaign forms electronically while challengers were not was “just a travesty” and resulted in more than 200 candidates being kicked off the primary ballot.

“That’s something we should never have in South Carolina,” she said.

Wilson proposed creation of a public integrity unit in state government to investigate, not rule on, ethics complaints. He said such a body would prevent duplicate investigations by different agencies.

It would not be a new agency, but could operate under a memorandum of understanding from existing agencies, he said.


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