Policy Council hypocritical on transparency and disclosure

Controlling and reporting money spent to influence the political process has been a long-running issue in South Carolina. Recently, it exploded over questions about how well House Speaker Bobby Harrell reported reimbursements for campaign-related expenditures from his campaign fund.

In response to the matter, Harrell met with The State and shared specifics about his expenditures. After reviewing the matter, the wrote that "(a)lthough state law does not specify how itemized the itemized expenditures have to be, it’s difficult to argue that what Mr. Harrell provided is adequate. In fact, the attorney for the State Ethics Commission said she considered his reports incomplete" but believed Harrell "likely has not misspent campaign funds".

So nobody did anything wrong, the law wasn't clear but more should have been done to comply with it anyway. That's about as clear as mud to us.

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2012/09/27/2457938/editorial-harrell-expenditures.html#storylink=cpy

We discussed this issue with Harrell's staff to get their take on things. While they answered our questions and we appreciate their promises to provide more specific reporting, we hope this episode, as well as other problems which have arisen with reporting weaknesses and loopholes, will prompt legislators to tighten ethics and disclosure laws in next year's session so higher standards aren't simply an option.

The problem with making progress on the issue of transparency and full disclosure is that, like other reform efforts, some of those who bark the loudest aren't always true to their sound-bites. One of the biggest offenders on this issue is Ashley Landess, the director of the South Carolina Policy Council, who jumped into the fray by demanding “to see the documentation to have complete confidence the speaker did indeed reimburse himself for actual cost and that the travel is legitimate”.

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2012/09/27/2458361/sc-house-speaker-insists-his-spending.html#storylink=cpy

Before you read any further, you should know where the Blogland stands on these issues. The Blogland has long advocated the need to disclose fully and fairly - and never shied away from holding both sides accountable for abiding by both the letter of the law and the principle behind disclosure. If you don't believe it, here are some examples from past postings:

Taking this a step farther - to make sure you, the reader, know how the bills get paid and where the lines are drawn, the Blogland also posted this disclosure notice posted in 2007 and repeated in 2009.

Unfortunately, when it comes to disclosure, not everyone sees it the same way. 

Unlike candidates, lobbyists and PACs, which are required to disclose the money it receives and spends to wield political influence, the South Carolina Policy Council doesn't have to do so. Also Landess is not registered as a lobbyist, even though definition provided by the South Carolina Ethics Commission seems to describe her role:

A lobbyist is defined as any person who is employed, appointed, or retained, with or without compensation, by another person to influence by direct communication with public officials or public employees.

From where the Blogland sees it, be it money given to and spent by either policy advocacy groups or candidates, it's still private money being spent to influence public policy in Columbia - and all of it should be disclosed.

When I inquired if the Policy Council would disclose their funding and expenditures, it led some public Twitter discussion, as shown from the screen capture on the right. 

While Landess argued that campaigns should have to disclose their private donations, she didn't think that standard should apply to her organization. As this seemed a little hypocritical, we asked for clarification of what the difference was, but never got one. 

To make a better comparison on this issue, just look the standard followed by Talbert Black's Palmetto Liberty PAC, which partners with Landess on issues. While Black's group is close to a one-man show, his PAC files regular disclosures with the state Ethics Commission, so one can see where the money is coming from and where it's going. Perhaps the Policy Council should follow his example.
When people buy products and services, it's generally accepted that they're entitled to full disclosure before they buy. Likewise, when money is spent to influence the political process, people have a right to know so people can make informed "buying" decisions about elections and supporting or opposing policies. It's a positon that the Blogland has long supported.

If Landess and the Policy Council truly believes that concealing private money intended to influence the political process is a bad thing, then they should offer the kind of full disclosure that they're expecting from Harrell and others.

7 Response to "Policy Council hypocritical on transparency and disclosure"

  1. Nancy Hicks 1/10/12 08:06
    Transparency for thee, not me. We could have had reform earlier this year, but it wasn't pure enough for Ashley. Next time, take the win and keep pushing for more. Hooking up with Paulbots who insist upon ideological purity and Dana Beach doesn't enhance her resume or further the SCPC's causes.
  2. Anonymous 1/10/12 08:21
    She's still around? I hadn't really noticed.
  3. Allen Olson 1/10/12 09:05
    There are many things I like about SCPC, but when they take it a step further than research and start actively pursuing an agenda (lobbying), then yes I agree. They are not operating within the framework of a 501-C3 (tax exemptstatus) and should be required to open their books.
  4. Rich Walker 1/10/12 09:34
    Policy Council President Ashley Landess is not an economist. She does not have a PhD, nor even a masters. Her only education of note is an undergrad in journalism. There is no mention in her biography of having created a job or having run a business.

    What are her qualifications to speak on economic matters?
  5. Anonymous 1/10/12 10:06
    So how much did Bobby pay you for this one?
  6. Nancy Hicks 1/10/12 11:00
    As we elect more and more people who care about transparency, the SCPC gets more strident. Most recently they weighed in on I-526, spreading the lie that Charleston constituents didn't want it completed. They might want to poll those who aren't members of the CCL. Bobby's PAC is paying $100/comment, what's your puppet master paying?
  7. Anonymous 1/10/12 21:26
    Earl, there is a lot more if you know where to look. She vanishes for days at a time and payroll is irregular. Most of the staff would quit but everyone is afraid to be out of work with the poor economy. Late checks are better than none at all.

    It's not Ed's Policy Council, that's for sure. Watch for some email for your next PC story.

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