Lawmakers fail to pass SC ethics fine enforcement regulation

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina lawmakers gutted a budget proviso that would have kept current and former elected officials who owe state ethics fines from running for office again. There are 409 current and former elected officials, lobbyists and political groups that owe the State Ethics Commission $2.6 million in unpaid fines.

In March, we aired a multiple part investigation into who owes this money and why the state claims it cannot collect. The fines come from failures to file campaign paperwork on time, failing to file forms that show who's paying these officials and how they're spending campaign cash and whether a politician has any business connections to government.

Since our reports aired three months ago, four elected officials were removed from the State Ethics Commission's "Debtors List." The list shows who owes, their elected position, the city and the fine amount owed. The four removed are:

-Mitchell Kirby, Florence County Councilman, $3,400

-Lucas Moses, Jr., Hampton County Schools, $2,600

-Cornelius Huff, Inman City Council, $1,740.24

-Thomas Smalls, Hampton County Sheriff, $1,000

Several other politicians had reductions to the amounts they owed after our reports aired in March, according to the latest update to the commission's Debtor's List. The following totals are payments/reductions since March:

-James "Barkley" Ramsey, Fairfield County Coroner: PAID: $1,893.83

-Samuetta Marshall, Orangeburg County Coroner: $400

-Eddie Dearybury, Spartanburg County Schools: $1,363.50

-Kenneth Lytch, Lynchburg Town Councilman: $276.46

-Thomas Gardner, Kershaw County Councilman: $3,500

-Steve Cain, Batesburg-Leesville councilman: $75.04

-Robert Bell, Laurens County Schools: $1,500

-Bobby Black, Greenville Elections Commission: $100


In comparing the January 2014 Ethics Debtor's list to the latest one posted on the State Ethics Commission's site, it shows few changes in the amounts owed by the state's largest debtors. The only payments made involving the top 10 highest debtors was to the amount owed by Fairfield Coroner Barkley Ramsey. Since our initial investigation aired in March, Ramsey's paid the commission $1,893.83 in fines. Ramsey owed as high as $24,081.15 in late filing fees. He's the only debtor we were able to interview who is actively paying off his debt.

The debtor who owes the most is Charleston County School District 2 Constituent Board member Anthony Brown. Brown owes $55,300 for failing to file multiple ethics forms since 2008. The latest Debtor's List shows Brown hasn't made any payments toward his debt since we aired our investigation in March.

Here is the list from the commission's Debtor's List of the top 10 highest debtors in the state who owe taxpayers ethics fines:

-Anthony Brown, Charleston County Schools: $55,300

- Ed Robinson, Florence City Council: $48,071.40

-James "Barkley" Ramsey, Fairfield County Coroner: $22,187.32

-Sammy Tucker, Jr., Kershaw County Councilman: $23,100

-Terrance Tindal, Summerton Town Council: $21,500

-Christopher Collins, Charleston County School Board: $15,400

-Frank Wright, Berkeley County Schools: $21,500

-Timothy Craig Ascue, Charleston County Schools: $13,300

A pair of the most powerful Richland County councilmen also owe unpaid ethics fines. Ethics records show current chairman Norman Jackson has not paid anything toward the $35,100 he owes the commission. The same list shows Richland County council's past-chairman, Kelvin Washington hasn't paid any of the $11,100 we reported he owed in March.

The legislature failed to pass a proviso that would have prevented debtors from running for office again until the paid all the fines owed to the state. State Ethics Commission Director Herb Hayden asked lawmakers to pass the proviso, but it never made it to the floor of the State House.

The proviso won't have another shot at passing until at least January when lawmakers return to Columbia for session.

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