Campaign contributions

(The Center Square) — From giving the South Carolina State Ethics Commission "real" enforcement authority to clearly defining political committees, one organization says election law changes will increase transparency in the Palmetto state.

The South Carolina Policy Council made the recommendations as part of a report with ideas on how the state should overhaul its campaign finance and ethics laws, which the group says are "grossly inadequate."

The group says disclosure is vital for transparency and accountability and says rules should be "clear, concise, and unambiguous." It also suggested ending legislative self-policing on campaign finance, prohibiting direct corporate contributions to candidates and political parties and mandating additional disclosures for contributions and expenses.

"When it comes to campaign donations, government ethics and pay-to-play politics, South Carolina has a broken and unaccountable system," Bryce Fiedler, SCPC’s director of research and co-author of "Cleaning up Columbia: How to fix South Carolina’s Broken Campaign Finance and Ethics System," said in an announcement.

"Citizens can’t find out who is giving political money and why," Fiedler added. "Most regulations are laughably weak, unenforceable, or simply nonexistent. And when officials do break the rules, rarely are there meaningful consequences. What we have is a dangerous recipe for corruption."

SCPC said any political committee definition should include "clear distinctions" between political action committees, political parties, issue advocacy and independent expenditures. Additionally, the group wants state officials to eliminate or "significantly" increase individual and political party campaign contribution limits and repeal what it sees as "grossly unconstitutional statutes" that "criminalize" some elected officials’ political speech.

"Our research makes one thing clear: South Carolina is long overdue for campaign finance and ethics reform," Fiedler said. "Legislators on both sides of the aisle must step up and embrace these practical measures."