Sheheen decries decriminalization of ethics violations

Got this release a few minutes ago from Vincent Sheheen:

Sheheen on Ethics Reform: GOP efforts & Governor’s back-seat approach the “good-old-boys-and-girls network at its worst”

Columbia – Today, state Representatives Beth Bernstein and James Smith stood up to call for real ethics reform and urged Governor Haley for leadership instead of hiding behind yet another bureaucratic commission while her followers do the dirty work of decriminalizing some of the most common ethics violations – many of which she was accused of herself. State Senator Vincent Sheheen released this statement:

“I thank Representatives Bernstein and Smith for joining me in the revolt against the status quo and the efforts to move South Carolina forward by returning common sense and ethics to our leadership. The Republican effort at ‘ethics reform’ is the good-old-boys–and-girls network in politics at its worst. We need real leadership to clean up the government, not just a study or report while members of the Governor’s own party decrease the punishment on ethics violations that she has been charged with.

“For too long, South Carolina has struggled to meet its potential under the guidance of leaders who get detoured by putting their self-interest before the interests of the people.  We need to change the way we do business and leave the politics of ideology and personal ambition behind to get the state back on track.”


I just wish he wouldn’t use that overworked “good ol’ boys” construction. That got tired back when Carroll Campbell was using it. I don’t think anybody really knows what it means, aside from having a rough impression that it’s bad.

Here’s a column I wrote musing about the phrase years ago…

And here’s a column Cindi Scoppe wrote on this “ethics” legislation. An excerpt:

After failing for more than half the session even to introduce their proposal on legislators’ top to-do item, House leaders rolled out a place-holder bill on April 11 that contained nothing but the bill title. They scheduled a subcommittee meeting for the next legislative day, last Tuesday, where House Republican Leader Bruce Bannister, who chairs the Constitutional Law Subcommittee, handed members of his panel a summary and a 100-page amendment that would become the bill.

Panel members discussed the items on the summary — decriminalization was not on the list — made some changes and approved the bill before they had a chance to read it. (It took me nearly three hours to do what I consider a cursory reading.) The process repeated the next day in the full Judiciary Committee, whose members also made changes without having time to read the bill. The text of the bill wasn’t posted online until Thursday evening, seven hours after the committee formally reported it to the House.

Although it’s common for the amended version of a bill not to be available until the next step in the process, I can’t recall a bill ever making it to full committee, much less the full House, before some version was available.

The process was so confusing that Rep. James Smith, a Democrat who serves on the subcommittee, told me Thursday morning that the bill increased penalties for the worst ethics violations. The next day, he called to say he was outraged to discover he was wrong — and to promise to lead a fight to restore them. GOP Rep. Rick Quinn, who also serves on the subcommittee, emailed me an amendment he planned to offer that would do what both men had thought the bill did — increase the current criminal penalties…

Yeah, I had spoken with James, last Tuesday night I think it was, when he was fresh from the meeting alluded to above, and he thought it was a good bill. It’s a good thing that he recognized his mistake…

18 thoughts on “Sheheen decries decriminalization of ethics violations

  1. Mark Stewart

    Or you could call them the entrenched local power brokers – and look to the Palmetto Compress purchase as another example of what happens when people simply stop looking out for the future and instead focus on the me and now of getting ahead by getting over on others.

    It’s endemic in insular, undercapitalized areas. Capital being not just wealth, but also civic-mindedness and honor.

    I wish Sheheen wouldn’t use party labels here though. It’s not the parties who are bad, it is the people who are – under their veneers. It is good that he stood up and raised a ruckus; now Doug can vote for Sheheen…

  2. Doug Ross

    “now Doug can vote for Sheheen…”

    Not until he stops hiding behind blaming Nikki Haley when he should be talking about specific people in the State House. Ethics reform starts there. He’s just afraid to take on Leatherman and Harrell which makes him unworthy of my vote. Haley is a symptom. Harrell and Leatherman are the problem.

    I’ll consider voting for him when he takes those two on.

      1. Doug Ross

        It’s simple – there is NOTHING Nikki Haley can do to pass ethics reform. The bully pulpit is a
        cardboard box and a tin can with a string attached.

        And, Mark, if it’s about Harrell, he should have the guts to say his name. But he won’t.

        1. Mark Stewart


          You and I can use pointed language that would be inappropriate within the legislative circle. It doesn’t make them weak and it doesn’t mean they aren’t even more accutely aware of the problems.

          What Sheheen and the other legislators are asking is that the general populace – or at least the one’s who can/will wield some pressure – agitate about this play by those most lacking in what most consider fair play. This isn’t a high minded issue. It is about cleaning up filth.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Of course. But if you just say “it’s about Harrell,” you let the rest of the House leadership off the hook.

      Also, Doug, please take note: He’s not running for speaker, or Finance Committee chairman. He’s running for governor. Against Nikki Haley. I really don’t understand your objection to his naming her in his criticism, or your insistence that he act as though he’s running against other people, for other offices…

      1. Doug Ross

        So it’s okay to blame Obama for the background checks for guns not passing, right? It’s his fault.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          That doesn’t follow in any way, shape or form. The gun control thing is a clear case of the Congress not doing what the president wanted.

          With ethics legislation in SC, Nikki is sort of the poster child. When I spoke with James Smith last week, when he had just come from a meeting on the bill, the first question I asked was, “Would it require disclosure of such things as the payment Nikki received from Wilbur Smith?” He said yes. That was before he was aware of the problems in the bill…

          Has anyone alleged that Obama has committed any sort of gun violence? No. (He prefers to use drones.) So how is that situation like this one?

          1. Doug Ross

            Would the bill cover past actions by Haley or future actions? Do you have any evidence that she has pushed for the decriminalization?

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            1. Future, obviously.

            2. I do not have such evidence, nor do I need it for my point to be valid.

            Your questions are sort of non sequiturs. Nikki Haley is, along with Ken Ard, the major cause of recent concern with our ethics laws on the state level. Of COURSE we would want to close the loopholes that she took advantage of. That is a perfectly natural goal of the legislation.

            And since she took advantage of the laws as currently configured, she is naturally someone we’d look at as a big part of the problem — all of her efforts to seem a champion of ethics reform notwithstanding.

          3. Doug Ross

            I’d say Bobby Harrell has enough ethics issues of his own to justify him pushing for the watered down bill. And his are current, not past.

  3. bud

    Doug, I’m 100% with Brad on this. Your defence of Haley seems very misplaced. She benefited from the inexplicable loophole that allowed her to be paid by Lexington Medical as a sort of lobbyist while also serving in the state congress. We discussed this at length a while back and I was simply astounded that there was no violation of ethics laws over that. The concensus here was there was no violation.

    1. Doug Ross

      Read my lips, bud. I’m not defending Haley. I think she’s corrupt and a lousy governor. Have I ever suggested otherwise? But I also can understand the difference between the person who writes the bill and the person who would benefit from it. In this case, iBobby Harrell fits both categories.

      And Sheheen knows that but plays the blame game on Haley because that’s all he ever does.

  4. Doug Ross

    Statement from Nikki Haley:

    “While the House Judiciary Committee laid a good foundation upon which the House can begin this important debate, I want to express my concern over the broad de-criminalization of the Ethics Act in the committee amendment,” Haley wrote to House members. “I believe ethics laws must include criminal penalties to deter serious public corruption, and I cannot support any effort to weaken our state’s ethics laws.”

    “With that said,” Haley continued, “it is my understanding that many members of the committee intend to fix this error and offer other amendments to further clarify and strengthen the committee amendment, and I appreciate their efforts.””

    What more can she do?

    1. Doug Ross

      How? In order to lead, you have to have some power over the people you are leading. She can’t tell Bobby Harrell what to do any more than you or I can. Or Vincent Sheheen, apparently.

        1. Doug Ross

          I’m asking for what specific ways Haley can lead on this issue. What she did is no different than what Sheheen did.

          Instead of saying “lead” describe what that would entail.

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