April 17, 2013

Editorial | Will S.C. ethics reform finally walk the walk?

It’s time for South Carolina ethics reform to stand up and walk.

It’s time for South Carolina ethics reform to stand up and walk.

Any parent knows the process children go through as they learn to walk for the first time. It starts not with the body, but with the head. Long before they’re actually able to actually coordinate their limbs and balance their weight, babies begin to try. And they fail. And they get frustrated and cry about it. And then they try again. And fail again. It can be months between when a child knows what he wants to do and when he’s actually able to do it. They’re not able to tell us, but it’s likely that all those false starts make the success at the end even sweeter.

South Carolina ethics reform proponents are hoping that this is the year we actually figure it out.

There’s no shortage of issues to coordinate: income disclosure; investigative oversight; campaign finance rules; and of course that whole filing fiasco that led to dozens of new candidates across the state losing a spot on the ballot last year in favor of incumbents.

“Our current ethics and campaign finance laws are very weak and watered down,” said Barbara Zia, co-president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. “They have more holes than Swiss cheese.”

Encouragingly, there has been no shortage of ideas or talk about fixes and tweaks to the state’s relatively lax ethics rules. We’ve had at least three state ethics study committees and numerous bills filed on the subjects. What hasn’t happened yet? Not one has passed.

We’ve got the right idea. It’s just getting all those limbs to work together so we can move forward that seems to be the problem.

In that regard, it was good news to see the House’s major ethics reform bill pass through committee this week in Columbia. The Senate subcommittee discussing reform efforts also met this week. Why the rush? Well, we hope at least partly because this is an important issue that deserves prompt action (and frankly deserved action years ago). But the most pressing concern is the May 1 crossover date, the day by which bills need to move from one legislative body to the next if they stand any chance of passing this year.

With topics that unfortunately remain sources of contention among some of our leaders (is closing loopholes that allow unlimited campaign donations really that hard to support?), it will likely take some extended debate for reform efforts to pass one chamber, let alone two. The clock is ticking.

The call in last year’s elections was for action. Many candidates – those unfairly left off the ballots and those lucky ones who stayed on – ran on campaign platforms of tougher ethics laws and the need for reform. Don’t let us down, folks.

It might take a few tries, there might be some falling down along the way, perhaps a stumble or two, but we know you can do it.

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