SC Sen. Hayes proposes ethics reforms

ashain@thestate.comFebruary 7, 2013 

— A state senator, widely considered that body’s dean on ethics issues, introduced bills Wednesday to require legislators to disclose all their sources of income, force political committees to reveal their financial backers and stop lawmakers from policing themselves.

Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, former chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said recent scandals and low marks from watchdog groups create an environment for the Legislature to pass meaningful bills and “not just something to make people feel happy.”

Four different groups have examined ethics reforms, including a commission created by Gov. Nikki Haley, which released its recommendations last week. Some of Hayes’ proposals mimic the suggestions from the governor’s group.

Hayes, who headed the Senate’s special committee on ethics reforms, wants lawmakers and family members who live in their households to reveal all their sources of income. Lawmakers now only have to disclose money earned from the government or companies that hired lobbyists.

Hayes also wants political committees to be required to file campaign reports, including their donors. In last year’s election, he was among several lawmakers targeted by attacks from committees that did not have to reveal their supporters or spending because a federal judge had ruled the state’s definition of a political “committee” was too broad.

He also proposed sending ethics complaints against legislators to the S.C. Ethics Commission, so lawmakers stop policing themselves. Now, Senate and House ethics committees hear complaints against legislators. Changing that system would require a constitutional amendment.

“We need to have somebody out of this group monitoring elected officials,” Hayes said.

To help pay for the commission’s expanded workload, Hayes suggests raising the annual fees charged lobbyists to $200 from $100.

Hayes said he does not want to end the House and Senate ethics committees, but they would mainly help clarify rules and not handle ethics accusations.

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