You may be well aware of the very specific corruption in Columbia, but perhaps you are just now catching up. This article by Avery G. Wilks at TheState.com is a very good refresher for know what’s what. Catch yourself up – this is not going away, and it is turning into an incredibly interesting narrative. And … potentially … depending on how it plays out, may bring us closer to being the freest state in the nation if we can divest ourselves of some of the biggest elected crooks in the nation!
While the probe’s scope and direction remain unclear, ethics watchdogs say it already is exposing the system’s flaws.
One of those, some contend, is that powerful legislators in gerrymandered districts raise tens – sometimes hundreds – of thousands of dollars for their re-election campaigns, despite having no opponents.
“They end up in uncontested districts with no opposition, but tons of unused campaign money,” said John Crangle, a longtime S.C. government watchdog. “That becomes Eve’s apple for them. It’s begging them to find a way to put it in their pockets.”
For example, Harrell, the former House speaker, was re-elected 10 times to the House without a Republican ever running against him. He faced general election challengers just twice, cruising to victory in 2000 and 2012.
Still, the Charleston Republican raised nearly $394,000 for the 2008 election, more than $217,200 for the 2010 election, and more than $555,200 for the 2012 election.
As Pascoe’s probe has shown, companies also can hire lawmakers directly – in addition to contributing thousands to their campaigns and hiring lobbyists.
Some lawmakers, including Merrill, the suspended Berkeley Republican, are hired by private companies or public agencies as consultants. In some cases, those outfits need the kind of help lawmakers can provide.
Merrill was hit with a 30-count indictment alleging he accepted money to influence government decisions and sponsor legislation for private interests.
Ethics advocates said those relationships are common among legislators.
Special interest groups spent $9.3 million last year lobbying the state’s lawmakers. But Crangle, now with the S.C. Progressive Network, said the practice of hiring legislators as consultants is the most dangerous threat to democracy in South Carolina.
“Businesses can hire them on a retainer, with a wink and a nod, expecting some favor in the State House,” he said. “They’re lobbyists, but they’re not in the lobby. They’re in the Senate chamber. They’re in the House chamber.
“That’s the dominant way that special interests control the Legislature,” Crangle added. “It’s not lobbying. It’s by these special relationships they have with legislators.”