COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday again called on South Carolina legislators to pass ethics reform, saying 2015 must be the year to finally get it done.
Haley commended newly elected House Speaker Jay Lucas and Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin as sincere in their efforts but said the chambers must work together in order to get a bill to her desk.
Haley said three things are essential to the reform package: Lawmakers must be required to disclose their income sources; legislators should no longer investigate themselves; and legislators who sue the government should have to report the agency and payout.
"If we do that, taxpayers can celebrate, legislators can relax because they know exactly what's right and wrong, and we can suddenly say" South Carolina is no longer failing in ethics, Haley said.
She notes nothing has changed since 2012, when lawmakers of both parties called strengthening ethics laws a top priority.
Those pledges occurred after the House Ethics Committee cleared Haley on allegations she illegally lobbied for an engineering firm and a hospital while in the House. After she was cleared, Haley helped lead the charge for reform, creating an ethics reform task force led by former attorneys general Henry McMaster, a Republican, and Travis Metlock, a Democrat. That group issued 23 recommendations in January 2013.
Since then, former House Speaker Bobby Harrell has pleaded guilty to violating ethics laws and former Sen. Robert Ford has been indicted. Harrell's case bypassed the legislative committee as Attorney General Alan Wilson directly took a complaint.
"If there is anybody that doesn't think we need an independent investigation system, look at the Harrell case," Haley said.
She also pointed to former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, who pleaded guilty to campaign spending violations and resigned in 2012.
"It's amazing it's been two years," Haley said. "I think it's time for us to say 'enough is enough.'"
Haley said South Carolina is still among just four states that don't require elected officials to disclose who pays them.
"We deserve as taxpayers to know who pays our elected officials," she said. "It is time for legislators to own up to taxpayers and show who's paying them. It will make them feel better to know that's out in the open."
One of the accusations against Haley was that she didn't disclose on ethics forms her consulting fees between 2007 and 2009 from Wilbur Smith Associates, an engineering firm with state contracts that hired her to bring in business. Haley has repeatedly said she didn't report the income because state law doesn't require it.