Want Good Government? Set a good example: Disclose.

good government

This is a small matter, but I felt that someone should point out what should be obvious…

I got this email from a group calling itself SC Good Government Committee… No, excuse me, “sc good government committee,” e.e. cummings-style.

The release basically attacked Sen. Lee Bright’s Bathroom Bill for distracting from important issues in our state.

So I immediately thought, as any journalist would, “Who’s the sc good government committee?” Scanning through the email release partially satisfied my curiosity, at least by implication: It is apparently connected somehow to the state Chamber of Commerce. Ted Pitts — my former representative, Nikki Haley’s former chief of staff, and now president of the state Chamber — has a statement that is featured prominently in the release:

“South Carolina businesses don’t need the government telling them how to run their business. The governor has called the bill unnecessary and the State Chamber strongly agrees. South Carolina businesses already understand the importance of treating people with respect. Senator Bright is trying to create a political crisis that doesn’t exist to save his political career. Meanwhile our state has real issues we need to address including crumbling roads and a skills gap. We’ll be working on electing serious Senators next year who will be focused on addressing the states infrastructure and workforce needs and limiting government’s role in our lives.”

But when I clicked on the logo in the email and went to the group’s website in search of further info, I was stymied. The first and most obvious question — Who are the members of this committee? — is never answered. The About page says:

The South Carolina Good Government Committee (PAC) promotes good government in the Palmetto State by supporting free market policies in an effort to create economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for all South Carolinians.

The Good Government Committee is authorized to financially support selected elective measures and candidates. This PAC is organized and operated on a voluntary, non-partisan basis.


To further the democratic process of the free enterprise system
To advance business, industry and private sector job creation in South Carolina


The Good Government Committee achieves its goals by:

Financially supporting efforts to educate South Carolinians on issues that are important to her citizens

Participating in the nomination or election of selected candidates for nomination to elective state office and who are believed to be in general agreement with the committee

… to which I say, “What Committee?”

Beyond that, the site’s blog and Latest News pages let us know that this PAC is interested in electing certain people to the Legislature. The blog promises, “The Good Government Committee will endorse candidates in the coming weeks.” So far, the group has taken an interest in the special Senate District 4 election that elected Rep. Mike Gambrell (that is, he won the GOP runoff and is unopposed in the general). The group’s Facebook page congratulated him for winning his runoff.

And that’s all I know.

I’m not alleging ill will here or anything because this kind of “mystery committee” thing is all too common to read much into it. But I will say this:

If your goal is good government, then you will certainly be advocating for greater transparency in government.

The least you could do is set a good example by telling us, clearly and frankly, who you are…

19 thoughts on “Want Good Government? Set a good example: Disclose.

  1. Dave Crockett

    We can all thank the Citizen’s United ruling by SCOTUS that gave PACs the right to raise and spend as much money as they want, on whatever they want and not tell anyone anything about who they are or where their money comes from. Freedom of speech from behind a duck blind. Yippee.

  2. Karen Pearson

    I have another problem with PACs. If they are single issue PACs they’re likely to back anyone who agrees with them on that issue without concern for the person’s stances on other issues, although electing that person might be a disaster apart from that one issue. If they promote a broad agenda there probably are certain parts of that agenda that I don’t like. Depending on who’s running, I might vote for a person with that agenda, but I probably wouldn’t want to spend money on him/her. I, too, think the secrecy is a bad idea. So to PACs: thanks, but no thanks.

  3. Assistant

    Why worry about more speech, whatever the source? Folks join organizations like the NRA and ACLU to support the viewpoints the organizations espouse and can remain anonymous. Sometimes folks feel that they can express what they feel only anonymously, they treasure their privacy. What’s wrong with that?

    Well, one thing “wrong” with that is that retaliation becomes more difficult. As you may have read, California Attorney General Kamala Devi Harris is trying to get IRS forms from certain nonprofits to find out who the contributors are. She’s so special she believes that she has a right to information that’s protected from disclosure by federal law. Do you wonder what would happen to such information were it to fall into the hands of a hyperpartisan?

    Don’t bother, because the recent, multiyear Wisconsin John Doe investigations conducted by the ilwaukee County District Attorney should make it clear that the goal is to silence the opposition. Under the peculiarities of the Wisconsin law, investigators could –and did — conduct pre-dawn raids to seized computers, files, and such, and prohibit the targets from telling anyone why they were being investigated. Even after judges ruled that there was no evidence of a crime, the DA and the “non-partisan” state Government Accountability Board kept the material seized, then tried to make all of the material public.

    So it makes no sense to me that I have freedom to speak my mind as an individual, but that I don’t if I join with my neighbors, friends, and other likeminded individuals as a group. That’s in part why Citizens United makes sense.

    1. Assistant

      It’s also part of a proud tradition. Remember that the authors of The Federalist Papers wrote using the pseudonym Publius in advocating for the ratification of the Constitution.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, we know. Of course, that was the fashion in a time when being able to express yourself without having your head chopped off for it was a novelty.

      Had I been there at the time, I would have said to Hamilton, Madison and Jay: “Put your own name on it. Stand up and be counted.”

      In the 21st century, I have NO respect for anyone who wants to pay someone else to advocate ideas and refuses to stand behind those ideas. It’s contemptible…

      And by the way, folks, I’m not aiming that contempt at Mike Cakora, a.k.a. “Assistant.” We know who he is and appreciate his comments — he always signed them until he ran into trouble with my troll filter using his name…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        To make the other side of the argument (as seems to be my role here) advocating anonymously has a benefit. It forces the reader to deal with the argument without allowing them to be distracted or otherwise swayed by the person making the argument.

        It focuses the reader on the arguments, so they stand or fall on their own merit. You can’t personally attack a writer whom you cannot identify.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And that was one of the arguments in favor of “Publius.” There were plenty of people who might have dismissed Hamilton personally. Perhaps others would have dismissed Madison as another of the Virginia landed gentry.

          In a time when the states were essentially separate countries, being from one of the big states or one of the little states would make those in the OTHER kind of state suspicious of you.

          So yeah, there was value to having the arguments disembodied, in that place and at that time. Aside from the fact that it was the fashion, in a day when writing for publication sometimes had an unsavory tint. A time when a poetry-writing naval officer (you’ll encounter some in those books) might be published under the byline, “by a Gentleman of the Royal Navy,” and no more. It was the fashion.

          But you know what? I see a world of difference between the carefully reasoned, erudite political science laid out in the Federalist Papers and the kind of lowest-common-denominator, anti-intellectual bludgeoning that we tend to get from PACs. They offer something more akin to artillery bombardment than political argument. They shouldn’t do so anonymously, and the rest of us should demand transparency, regardless of whether the law requires it…

          1. Bryan Caskey

            “But you know what? I see a world of difference between the carefully reasoned, erudite political science laid out in the Federalist Papers and the kind of lowest-common-denominator, anti-intellectual bludgeoning that we tend to get from PACs.”

            A valid point.

    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Also Mike, I don’t think many people are worried about “more speech.”

      They’re worried about people being able to amplify their views far beyond the average person’s ability to do so, without any accountability whatsoever for that influence.

      As far as I’m concerned, “billionayuhs” should be able to pay to broadcast their views all they want, however much it upsets Bernie — as long as they do so openly and publicly.

      And if the law doesn’t require them to disclose, they should anyway. And if they don’t, the rest of us should speak up and demand that they do so — as I’m doing with sc good government, whoever they are…

      1. Assistant

        Heh, tell that to Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla who had to resign after an uproar arose when his $1,000 contribution in support of a gay-marriage ban in California became known. Had he not resigned, the company would have been mercilessly attacked by the New American Fascists. That’s what happens when those opposing gay marriage are describes as being anti-gay and gay-haters.

        Retaliation is a reasonable fear even for good government types. How many elected officials would love the chance to stick it to someone who’s pushing for tougher ethics laws or greater transparency?

        Meanwhile, more money that the Kock’s ever dreamed of handing out gets distributed by the Justice Department which has engaged in a scheme to undermine Congress’s spending authority by independently transferring dollars to this administration’s political allies. Kim Strassel has written about it.

        It works like this: The Justice Department prosecutes cases against supposed corporate bad actors. Those companies agree to settlements that include financial penalties. Then Justice mandates that at least some of that penalty money be paid in the form of “donations” to nonprofits that supposedly aid consumers and bolster neighborhoods.

        The Justice Department maintains a list of government-approved nonprofit beneficiaries. And surprise, surprise: Many of them are liberal activist groups. The National Council of La Raza. The National Urban League. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition. NeighborWorks America (which awards grants to left-leaning community organization groups, and has been compared with Acorn).

        This strategy kicked off with the $13 billion J.P. Morgan settlement in late 2013, though in that case the bank was simply offered credit for donations to nonprofits. That changed with the Citigroup and Bank of America settlements, which outright required $150 million in donations. The BofA agreement contains a provision that potentially tees up nonprofit groups for another $490 million. Several smaller settlements follow the same mold.

        To further induce companies to go the donation route, Justice considers these handouts to be worth “double credit” against penalty obligations. So while direct forms of victim relief are still counted dollar-for-dollar, a $500,000 donation by BofA to La Raza takes at least $1 million off the company’s bill.
        The purpose of financial penalties is to punish, and to provide restitution to real victims. The Justice Department would make the case that this money is flowing to groups that aid the targets of supposed banking abuse, such as homeowners. But that assumes the work these groups do is targeted at actual victims—which it isn’t. It assumes that the work these groups do in housing is nonpartisan—which it isn’t. And it ignores that money is fungible. Every dollar banks donate to the housing arms of the Urban League or La Raza is a dollar those groups can free up to wage an assault on voter ID laws, or to help out Democrats.

        Who’s being transparent? Search for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Ally Bank for how that works.

        1. Lynn Teague

          As someone who has been pushing for stronger ethics laws and greater transparency for four years, fairly conspicuously, I’m unaware of anyone trying to “stick it to me.” Endless maneuvers to stop reform bills, yes, but nothing personal. These fears are often overblown.

        2. bud

          Mike, perhaps some of the money in these tiny settlements goes to activists groups that help Democrats. I won’t dispute that point. But this glosses over the very serious nature of the banking scandal that led to these fines in the first place. I’d be more than willing to trade the “fungible” money in these settlements for a few jail sentences for bankers who trashed our economy and caused enormous damage to 10s of millions of Americans. Frankly it takes some moxie to bring up a situation that demonstrates the failure of conservative policy in order to make a relatively minor point about the way the money is distributed. Reminding people of this calamity can only help bolster Bernie Sanders and his policy proposals.

            1. Doug Ross

              When we sold our home last year, the buyers came to the table with a check for $11 and change. They financed everything including closing costs. These were two middle aged adults, one a school teacher and the other a manager type. Now if they have any financial difficulty and end up in foreclosure, do we blame the bank for lending them the money or the buyers for making a poor decision? They certainly received paperwork from the mortgage lender explaining exactly down to the penny what their financial responsibility was and how much interest they would be paying over the course of their 30 year mortgage (which will bring them into their late 70’s).

              Now, if we do see another housing bubble caused by poor decisions, I hope this time we all the “too big to fail” banks to actually fail. By allowing tax dollars to be used to bail out the banks, it encourages them to keep behaving as if there is no risk.

              1. Assistant

                Do you expect a lender to refuse a loan to folks who meeting the qualifying criteria Fannie and Freddie use for their loan purchase criteria? The lender has to worry about charges of discrimination and the like. The responsible lenders who actually keep the notes are the ones who play it safely.

                Listening to radio ads in the DC area, even credit unions have started offering refinancing at full appraised value. Now some of them do sell there notes, but stuff like this makes me think that we’re gonna see another bubble pop.

            2. bud

              The article you cite does not support “the federal government created the housing bubble”. It is true that conservative policies served to enable the banks to act irresponsibly but it was the banks themselves who were the real bad actors.

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