South Carolina Senate postpones vote on ethics compromise

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Time ran out in the final day of regular session at South Carolina’s General Assembly before the Senate could vote to update the state’s 1991 Ethics Act.

Earlier on Thursday, the House voted 101-12 to approve a compromise that no longer includes an independent oversight committee to look at cases. The Senate instead chose to wait until June 17 to consider the compromise and if passed, the ethics reform bill will be sent to the governor to be signed into law.

Changes in the compromise measure include requiring elected officials and candidates to disclose sources of personal income but not amounts. It would allow them to pay ethics-violation fines with campaign funds.

It would also ban Leadership Political Action Committees (PACs) run by politicians from raising and spending money for other legislators without campaign fund oversight. Other third party campaign groups such as Super PACs would be required to disclose their top five donors and anyone who gives more than $10,000.

If passed, a committee would be set up to determine what violations are criminal or civil in nature. Currently, all violations can be prosecuted as misdemeanors.

The compromise did not include the House’s proposed 12-person independent committee to investigate violations, which the Senate opposes.

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, filibustered a vote on the compromise so the Senate could have the next two weeks to review what is in it.

Bright said he thought the bill fell short by not disclosing income amounts or including the independent ethics review. He also said anonymous contributions should be protected as expressions of freedom of speech. Otherwise individuals and businesses would fear retribution for contributing to groups that fund attack ads against candidates, Bright said.

Gov. Nikki Haley cleared up confusion in the last minutes of regular session by confirming on Twitter that she would sign the bill if passed. She called upon any senators using her as an excuse to stall the bill’s passage to sit down.

Likewise, opponents in the House voted against the bill for not including the 12-person independent committee.

Supporters said the bill is a step forward in transparency but conceded it didn’t go as far as they wanted after two years of effort to pass ethics reform.

“We wanted more. Our constituents wanted more,” said House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville. “We all wanted independent investigations of public officials, but there is absolutely no sense in sacrificing all of these reforms at the altar of the investigation.”

Bannister said the Republican Caucus in the House will continue to push for independent oversight next year when regular session convenes.


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