updated Jan. 21
The notion that a Senate ethics proposal lacks independent oversight is “totally bogus,” said Judiciary Committee chairman, Larry Martin on Tuesday.
Ethics reform is no joke for the Pickens Republican. Martin wouldn’t give the name of the group making such claims, but said opponents of the bill were in the crowd observing the meeting. “I wouldn’t give them the privilege of singling them out,” he said.
He also applied the term, “propaganda pumps” to opponents of a proposal to reduce domestic violence. Activists opposed the measure for fear it would incidentally threaten the gun rights of innocent citizens. The committee didn’t vote on that bill, but will take it up again on Wednesday.
Martin was likely talking about Talbert Black, who was in the crowd when committeemen approved the bill, and other activist allies who think the proposal moves the state in the wrong direction.
Black leads the South Carolina Campaign for Liberty and takes ethics pretty seriously, too. He has been calling on activists to ask the committee to reject the bill.
The bill provides for the House and Senate to appoint two members each to the State Ethics Commission, and for the governor to appoint four members. The commission receives complaints against officials and decides whether those complaints warrant further action.
Under current law the governor appoints nine commissioners, who must be approved by the General Assembly.
Black thinks the change doesn’t represent true independent oversight as long as the House and Senate Ethics committees have a role in hearing and disciplining members. “It’s not yet independent oversight as long as the legislative bodies have any role,” he said after the meeting.
He thinks there’s a better way—hold officials to the same standard as ordinary citizens. According to Black, the Ethics Act creates a different set of standards for politicians.
But one thing should remain the same, he said—non-profits’ exemption from having to disclose their donors. Political grass roots leaders fret requiring disclosure of their donors could expose activists to intimidation. This is particularly significant for policy advocacy groups that occasionally mention a politician.
The bill would have non-profits disclose their expenditures. Martin said he isn’t concerned with small donations.
He supports the provision because of a group that campaigned against him in the Upstate. He estimated the group spent more than $200,000 on that campaign, though he said he never found out who was behind it.
Senators approved the bill 19 to 1. Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, cast the only dissenting vote.
The bill now heads to the full Senate. A similar proposal failed on the last day of the legislative session last year. Martin said he thinks the bill will fare well this session because it prioritizes independent oversight, transparency of campaign expenditures, and income disclosure.