Sunday, March 27, 2005
disclosure needed to highlight influence peddlers
SC Statehouse Report
27, 2005 - - Not too many years ago, some state and local
government meetings really were conducted in smoke-filled
Sunshine laws and the open-government movement created more
transparency and accountability, but a modern-day equivalent
of the smoke-filled room still exists: big money that pays
to influence legislation.
Current state campaign law requires lobbyists and their employers
to disclose a lot of information about contributions paid
to political candidates to influence the outcome of elections.
But when it comes to the next step - - influencing the outcome
of matters before lawmakers - - there's virtually no disclosure
required in South Carolina or any other state, according to
state ethics officials.
At first glance, it might not seem too important. But when
you consider the thousands of dollars some entities appear
to be spending to try to get lawmakers to change how things
are done that affect everyone in the state, it begs the question:
Who is paying?
A case in point revolves around the so-called Put Parents
In Charge proposal urged by Gov. Mark Sanford.
In ads reminiscent of those used by Sanford in his 2002 campaign
ads, the S.C. Policy Council reportedly has paid at least
$217,000 for television air time of Sanford promoting the
proposal, which would siphon public school money to help parents
pay for private education.
WORLD: About husbands
TRACK: New section
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Putting aside the ethical question of Sanford receiving a
political benefit for free by appearing in the ad, it makes
one wonder - - who is really paying to push the Put Parents
In Charge ad?
S.C. Policy Council President Ed McMullen refused to answer
questions about the ad and its funders.
"That's none of your business," he said, adding
that he wouldn't be interviewed because he was irritated about
descriptions of the bill as a voucher proposal, instead of
a tax credit measure.
(In reality, the objection is pure semantics because bill
proponents want to control the language of the debate. But
the practical effect is the same - - a subsidy of private
education using public school dollars. Vouchers, or government
grants, do it directly; tax credits have the same purpose,
but do it indirectly.)
Voters deserve to know the people and money behind efforts
to influence lawmakers' votes because policies that are passed
will impact people across the state. Similarly, state lawmakers
deserve to know who is behind efforts to persuade them to
More accountability is called for. State lawmakers should
consider beefing up campaign disclosure laws to cover efforts
to influence legislation. Here are two ideas:
- Tax forms. Taxpayers would know more about how
lobbyist principals - - those who pay lobbying salaries
- - fund public relations efforts if they were required
to make their federal tax returns public when they provide
other campaign disclosure paperwork. Such a requirement
wouldn't cost anything to the companies, trade associations
or non-profit organizations because they have to fill out
the forms anyway.
- Disclose media budgets. A tougher measure would
be for lawmakers to require entities trying to influence
public opinion on legislation to disclose their contributors
when media advertising budgets exceed $5,000 per year. On
a parallel track, lawmakers may want to consider requiring
media outlets to disclose media purchases of more than $5,000
by interest groups when advertising seeks to influence the
outcome of legislation.
Some may cry that such disclosure would be bad for the process.
Hogwash. Disclosure doesn't prohibit anybody or group from
doing exactly what they are doing now.
But disclosure increases transparency so voters have a better
idea what's going on. In the long run, that could help modern-day
smoke-filled rooms become a thing of the past.
3/27: About husbands
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political events from the past week:
Mabry. The State Transportation Commission gave a
thumb up this week to the job Betty Mabry is doing as the
agency's top official, despite Chairman Tee Hooper's displeasure
with her. The agency, however, will undergo an outside review.
Local governments. Municipalities, counties and environmentalists
breathed a sigh of relief this week at the Senate Agriculture
Committee killed provisions of a bill that would have stripped
local authority to make some regulations stricter than the
state. The measure provides some restrictions on local governments,
but less stringent than earlier.
Townsend. Hats off to GOP Rep. Ronnie Townsend, the
Anderson County Republican who heads the House Education and
Public Works Committee. He continued this week to rail against
the Sanford voucher plan by saying it wouldn't put parents
Morris. Another slap in the face went to former Comptroller
General and convicted securities violator Earle Morris, whose
name was removed this week from a state road named after him.
Sanford. The governor suffered a big loss with a Senate
Finance Committee snubbing his banner income tax cut proposal.
He also seems to be headed to losing some political power
with Senate efforts to rein in gubernatorial control of Santee
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