Wednesday, March 16, 2005

South Carolina Legislature Lives Large With Less Disclosure

As Aaron Gould Sheinin of Knight-Ridder reports in the Myrtle Beach Sun News, a House Ethics panel will decide whether to institute tougher ethics and campaign finance standards after a report showed that over a third of House members incorrectly reported campaign donors and expenditures.

Currently, neither the House nor the Senate have to report the occupations of donors. Starting this April, the Senate will start using forms which require occupations to be disclosed. Based on a decision by the attorney for the House Ethics Committee that a 2003 ethics rule only requires that donor occupation be collected, not disclosed, the House has exempted themselves from disclosing what occupations their donors have.

Donor occupation can be a key element in the narrative of who is trying to influence an election. Occupation information allows the public to see if a candidate is receiving tons of dollars from particular industries, which can give voters a better sense of where a candidate might stand on an issue when it comes time to vote for legislation.

The current House approach denies voters this opportunity. Instead of hiding the information based on a legalistic interpretation, the House should embrace the sunlight that better disclosure shines on the process.

This is especially true when big money continues to play such an important role in who gets elected, as reported by Lee Bandy in The State.

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