COLUMBIA, SC (WBTW) – In a report by the Center for Public Integrity, looking at government accountability and transparency in all 50 states, South Carolina gets a grade of “D-“ and ranks 36th overall. South Carolina got grades of “F” on public access to information, political financing, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, and ethics enforcement agencies.
“South Carolina has some basic problems,” says John Crangle, state director for the government watchdog group Common Cause. “One is a conflict of interest problem, where a lot of public officials of this state are part-timers and they’re using their public office as an opportunity to make money on the side.”
He says campaign finance is the other big problem. For example, the report gives the state a zero for not requiring all groups that make political ad buys to disclose their contributor information.
The state’s lowest ranking, 44th, comes in public access to information. The state gets another “zero” for the public’s ability to get information in a timely manner and at no cost.
Jay Bender, the state’s foremost expert on the Freedom of Information Act, says the law was designed to help regular citizens, not necessarily journalists, since journalists have sources and other ways to get information. He says the state’s FOIA law is actually a good one, but the state has a cultural problem.
“We have a thin veneer of people in appointed and elected positions who want to make decisions for the rest of us and then expect those decisions to be accepted, and one of the ways they gain acceptance is not sharing the information that led up to the decision,” he says. An example of that may be a school board that doesn’t publicize how it chooses a new superintendent, and then stonewalls a citizen who tries to get more information about the candidates. “If their stonewalling isn’t effective, then they’ll come back and try to charge you more than the law allows to look for the records and make them available, to dissuade you from making your request,” he says.
Gov. Nikki Haley’s press secretary, Chaney Adams, says, “This is precisely why Governor Haley has fought hard for four years for income disclosure, independent investigations of legislative ethics complaints and transparency for lawyer legislators who sue the state– because this is something our administration has long believed needs to happen to ensure good government for the people. It’s time to finish the job ; no more excuses.”