Yesterday's organizational session in the state House showed the leadership taking a welcome step forward by establishing equal membership for both parties in the State House, mirroring how Congressional ethics committees are set up. While it's a good temporary measure that will allow both sides to keep an eye on each other, more work is needed.
Legislators have begun work and are promising action in the near future with the intent of addressing the substantive needs for tighter oversight as well as convince the public that whatever reforms are adopted are real. For now, we'll watch closely and give them time to work on something meaningful.
The problem is that any reforms which are adopted won't address every aspect of the process, especially with regard to efforts to outside interests who refuse to open up the same kind of scrutiny that applies to legislators. Unfortunately, federal court rulings mean it's a lot easier for legislators and state government to regulate themselves than to apply those same standards to others, especially when it comes to greater transparency over cash spent to influence the political process.
This problem has long been a concern of the Blogland, which has regularly sounded off on the need for more oversight over third-party groups which seek to influence elections and policy in South Carolina.
Since 1998, when the video poker industry organized high-dollar outside campaigns to influence statewide and legislative campaigns, South Carolina has seen more and more involvement by shadowy groups whose donors and motives remain hidden, aided by those who compromise ethics when the means suits their particular end.
Earlier in the fall, we raised concerns about Ashley Landess and the South Carolina Policy Council after Landess declared in a Twitter discussion that her organization did not have to disclose their sources of income,even though these funds are used to influence legislators and the legislative process as much as campaign contributions are.
Since then, Landess has since argued that ethics rules which apply to government should be even more stringent. Perhaps she could accomplish more if she chose to lead by example.
Recently, a story in The State was critical of another group which didn't disclose it's funding and spent heavily in several fall legislative races, pointing out "Some groups — establishment inasmuch as their names and agendas, unlike Folks’ Liber-TEA, are knowable to voters". The story said legislators planned to work on closing the kinds of loopholes that allow some to hide their money and mask their identities - and they should.
To the extent that they can, legislators should make sure that ethics reforms shine the light of transparency on all money spent in and around government and political campaigns. As for those areas where the law can't reach, voters and activists should demand these groups which aren't addressed adhere to the standards legislators adopt in their reforms - and have the courage and honesty to call out those who don't and refuse to associate with them.
This state can ill afford those who flaunt the spirit of tougher disclosure laws - or those whose hunger for power allows them to blind themselves to the dangers presented by those who do.