Bill would give politicians 30 days to repay misused campaign funds

Published: Apr. 10, 2014 at 5:27 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - If you want to prevent campaign spending abuse, you want to up the penalties, not decrease them, right? Well, maybe not necessarily.

A series of bills making their way to the House floor would actually take away some of the penalties for public figures who abuse those funds. But opponents of the bills say this is definitely a step in the wrong direction.

The bill's wording is pretty simple: if you are caught using public campaign funds the wrong way, you've got 30 days to replace what you spent and you'll stay out of trouble.

It's one of a series of bills Rep. Kirkman Finlay has put forward that are being debated right now. Another details how campaign-related expenses can be paid for and another bill for changing what can be reimbursed.

"Let's come up with 5 or 6 bills that tackle those priorities so if the big bill dies we have these on a parallel path," said Finlay. "My personal opinion is the vast majority of resistance to ethics is fear."

But that fear is what opponents of the bill is necessary to keep elected officials playing by the rules.

"You're going in the exact opposite direction, that's what this is, it's an effort to water down the ethics act that provides rigorous and strict enforcement," said John Crangle with Common Cause SC.

It's not popular with Common Cause and South Carolina Policy Council's Ashley Landess has a harsher term for what could happen under the proposed bills since it reduces the threat of penalties.

"There's a word for converting private funds for personal use in the private sector," Landess said. "It's called embezzlement. This piece of legislation was designed to let politicians, particularly legislators, get away with misusing campaign funds."

So far all but one bill detailing cash donations have made it through House subcommittees.

"I've spoken to several attorneys and one judge who say these sound like reasonable provisions," said  Lynn Teague with the League of Women Voters.

Even if it makes it through the House, Crangle said he doesn't think it would pass the senate side.

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