Governor Nikki Haley

Governor Nikki Haley

Columbia 21 March 2012. South Carolina Fifth Circuit Judge Casey Manning dismissed a wide-ranging lawsuit accusing Governor Nikki Haley of multiple acts of corruption. The judge said a courtroom “is not the place to hash out ethics issues”.  She said that such issues should be handled by either state ethics officials or a legislative panel.

The lawsuit was filed last year by Republican John Rainey alleging that Haley illegally lobbied on behalf of her former employers while being a state representative.

South Carolina was ranked ‘F’ by the State Integrity Investigation. It comes as sixth worst corrupt state. Given the widespread corruption in South Carolina, the court may have been in a better position to decide on this case than the state ethics officials or a legislative panel.

Manning also wrote that Rainey, as a private citizen, has no standing to prosecute criminal allegations in court. The state Supreme Court warned against such activity in a 2010 ruling. This is also an anomaly and the law needs reformation corruption is an exception unlike other criminal offences. When corruption is so widespread a private citizen should have the standing to bring action in a court, otherwise corruption cannot be eradicated. Public prosecutors, like the mosquito in a nudist colony, probably know what to do but not where to start.

Part of the problem stems from South Carolina’s Ethics Commission, which has had its budget cut down by 60 percent over the last 13 years. Moreover, the House Ethics Committee contains five Republicans and only one Democrat. Normally, Congressional ethics committees are evenly split between parties regardless of who’s in power.

House Democrats have revealed a package of ethics reform laws aimed at reducing opportunity for corruption in South Carolina. Elements of the package, which was announced on Tuesday (20 March 2010), include the following:

Limiting the term for all members of the General Assembly
A statewide recall bill for public officials
Eliminating the House and Senate ethics committees and giving their authority to the State Ethics Commission
Requiring lobbyists to report their tax returns online
A two-year ban on legislators and government employees becoming lobbyists

Good government advocate John Crangle, who runs South Carolina’s chapter of Common Cause, said Democrats’ ethics reform package is a good start, but is still inadequate because it doesn’t address campaign fundraising from special interests during the legislative session.