Ethics reform hearing lets residents voice their suggestions

Columbia (WACH)--South Carolinians got a chance to voice their frustration and suggestions on how to improve ethics at the State house.

The state Senate Committee on Ethics Reform held a public hearing Wednesday. Proposed changes that citizens said included stopping leadership pacts within the House and Senate, mandatory personal income disclosure for all lawmakers, and a ban on public officials from becoming lobbyists or consultants four years after their service ends. That is not all.

"Our current laws have substantial gaps that can easily be used to circumvent ethics compliance," said Lynn Teague with the South Carolina League of Women Voters. "Everyone agrees that we need to correct the confusion that led to the removal of 200 candidates from the primary election ballots this year. We support efforts to do so by delegating the entire process to state and county elections offices; and by ensuring that they have the resources."

In addition to the ballot issue, the recent controversy surrounding former Lt. Governor Ken Ard also brought up the debate. Richland County Senator Joel Lourie said this is the most comprehensive ethics reform debate at the state house since Operation Lost Trust about 20 years ago.

"There have been reports that South Carolina has some of the weakest ethics laws and disclosure laws. And that perhaps has created the atmosphere for more political corruption," Lourie said. "And our committee intends to deal with that."

Lourie said he was impressed with many of the recommendations; and hopes to implement them.

"The whole concept of how independent expenditure campaigns are run completely in the dark. Nobody knows where money is coming from. or how it is being spent. We can still pass laws that will allow further disclosure of those committees. So that people will know who is attempting to influence the outcome of an election."

Lourie said they will take these ideas and introduce several bills when the general assembly meets in January. He expects lots of discussions and decisions during the first three months.