Ethics reform on the minds of outside groups as well - - Columbia, South Carolina

Ethics reform on the minds of outside groups as well


Democratic Rep. Harold Mitchell is accused of using funds from his 2009 campaign for personal benefit. It's an accusation at least one other state senator has faced this year.

Ethics reform advocates say the current system poorly defines what acceptable campaign expense are and are not.

"It's subjective," said the SC Progressive Network's Brett Bursey. "Speaker Harrell can spend a quarter of a million dollars on an airplane, and it's okay. Rep. Mitchell gets accused of spending a few hundred dollars on gasoline and a laundromat and putting homeless people up in a hotel and he gets hauled over the coals for a couple of years."

That's why half a dozen South Carolina senators spent much of their off season working on ethics reform legislation. Right now under the law, Mitchell's fellow law makers sit as judge and jury for ethics investigations.

The proposed legislation would bring in an independent group to determine if there is an ethics violation.

"People may need a vote from that representative the next week, and be involved in an investigation against them, or have to find probable cause," said Lynn Teague with the League of Women Voters, a group pushing for reform.

Mitchell could face a fine or expulsion if allegations he misused his campaign funds are verified. But reform advocates say even the punishment in these cases often falls short.

"You can in fact pay fines from your campaign fund or they can not pay them at all, and not much happens then," said Teague.

The League of Women Voters is working with lawmakers on a bill that would clarify some of the confusion surrounding campaign funds and what's appropriate and what's not.

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