Column: Only voters can solve Statehouse corruption

Something is rotten in the Palmetto state. As it stands now, one of the largest scandals in the state’s history could have possibly been uncovered. The indictment of state senator John Courson for misuse of campaign funds revealed a vast web of potential corruption, all stemming from the political consulting firm Richard Quinn & Associates. This firm has connections to a long list of South Carolina politicians, from state senators to state house representatives and even to the governor. If this corruption extends beyond just Courson, the state could find multiple powerful figures in its government on trial. In light of this, voters need to seriously press their representatives to strengthen the ethics laws of the state.

The investigation into Richard Quinn & Associates emerged after the indictment of state senator John Courson on several charges involving the “conversion of campaign funds for personal use and misconduct in office.” The indictment alleged that Richard Quinn & Associates helped Courson in this by allowing him to funnel over $100,000 through the firm. The money was supposed to be spent on political consulting, but Courson appears to have spent it on himself, a clear violation of South Carolina ethical and campaign finance law. As a result, an investigation was launched — an investigation that casts doubt on the integrity of a large number of state politicians.

The number of politicians who have worked with Richard Quinn & Associates is staggering. A list constructed by the Post and Courier found 21 state politicians with ties to the firm, including Gov. Henry McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson. Even if only a fraction of these politicians are engaged in corruption, the fallout could be massive. To combat this corruption, and instances like it (of which South Carolina has had a few), more stringent laws need to be pushed for by the voters. The question is, where to start?

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization, provides a starting point. In 2015, CPI released a report that gave South Carolina a D- for “state integrity.” While the state has taken steps since then to improve both the ethics commission and disclosure laws, the current laws likely don’t go far enough, failing to tackle the issues of personal income disclosure or campaign spending.

South Carolina could also look towards other states for inspiration. Connecticut, for example, has a “unique public financing program for electoral campaigns and a unified Office of Government Accountability that puts multiple state ethics offices under one roof.” Laws such as these, and others adopted in different states, strengthen the ability of the government to fight corruption. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from them.

Either way, it comes down to the voters to make a difference. Voters in the state of South Carolina need to keep an eye on this investigation and learn from the mistakes in the laws that allow such corruption to continue. Furthermore, voters need to push back hard on representatives who do not advocate for corruption reducing laws. Contact their offices, invite them to town halls and, if necessary, vote them out of office. Hold your representatives accountable. They’re here to represent you, not their pocketbooks and special interests. 

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