Forum to explore causes and cures of SC political corruption

May 17 • 6-9pm

Marriott, 1200 Hampton, downtown Columbia

Free and open to all.

Is political corruption endemic, or can it be treated? That’s the question at the center of a public forum on Wednesday that will offer three panel discussions with some of the state’s experts.

As yet another political scandal threatens a growing number of South Carolina lawmakers, it is clear that we have a problem. The bad news is that our system is broken. The good news is that we believe reform is possible if enough people demand it.

The SC Progressive Network has been working on reforms to reduce the causes of corruption for more than 20 years. We’ve concluded that unless we can make serious structural and cultural changes in the way we practice democracy in South Carolina, we will keep repeating the same patterns of abuse that will only further erode public trust.

It is no surprise that money and power are the interrelated causes of our lack of representative democracy and the resulting corruption.

Historically, our incumbent legislators, who win office with the existing rules and voters, have been disinclined to change a system that is working fine for them. They have resisted efforts to make it easier to vote, and ahve ignored legislation that would create a system of public financing for the General Assembly. A young Sen. Clementa Pinckney and Rep. Joe Neal were the bill’s prime sponsors, which has been introduced every session since 2000 but has yet to make it to the floor.

While voter participation continues to shrink, bills for universal voter registration have likewise languished without hearings. Last November, fewer than 14 percent of registered voters elected 77 percent (131) of the 170 members of the SC General Assembly. The winners in 94 of these districts faced no opposition at all, yet raised over $4 million. What did they do with all that money?

The purpose of the forum is to initiate an honest discussion about the state of our democracy in South Carolina. How did we get here? Whose interests are now being served? Can we reduce the influence of money in politics? Join us for a timely conversation. The event is free and open to all. RSVP/Share on Facebook.

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Welcome and statement of purpose: Marjorie Hammock and Kyle Criminger, SC Progressive Network Co-chairs

Panel I – Modern History of Political Corruption

Moderator: Jack Kuenzie, WIS-TV

Rick Bundrett, The Island Packet

John Monk, The State

John Crangle, SC Progressive Network

Sen. Mike Rose, R-Dorchester, Ret.

Panel II – Causes of Corruption

Moderator: Ken W. Gaines, USC School of Law

Sen. Mike Rose, R-Dorchester, Ret.

Cassie Cope, The State

Lynn Teague, League of Women Voters of SC

Ashley Landess, SC Policy Council

Brett Bursey, SC Progressive Network

Panel III – Reform is Possible!

Moderator: Brian McConchie, WACH-TV

Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, Ret.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, Ret.

Rep. James Smith, D-Richland

Octavia Williams-Blake, Florence City Council

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg

John Crangle: This week in the State House

The SC Progressive Network has instituted a weekly briefing with our new government relations director, John Crangle. (Read about our good fortune in The State.)

The conference calls are open to members interested in keeping up with bills we are tracking in the State House. The calls are every Friday at 5:30pm, and last about a half-hour. To participate, send email to network@scpronet.com, and you will be sent the call-in number and code.

Friday’s call included discussion of these four items, summarized here by Network staff.

1. Legislators Water Down Money Laundering Law
Calling it “one of the more ludicrous events in the past week,” Crangle unpacked a story that involves House Judiciary subcommittee members realizing at the last minute that they were about to pass regulations to a statute that would criminalize legislators taking kickbacks – like those currently being investigated in association with Richard Quinn and Associates (RQA).

The money laundering law originally passed in 2016 with the intended purpose of criminalizing “illegally sourced money,” which the legislators took took to mean money from prostitution and drugs. When the legislature creates a law, the state agency charged with implementing it comes up with regulations to enforce it. In this case, it was Attorney General Alan Wilson’s job to submit the regs to the legislature for approval, but the AG’s office never got around to writing them. Crangle suggested the AG may have been distracted by the fact that he, his father, the former AG and current governor Henry McMaster all have given tons of money to RQA. Furthermore, Wilson appointed the special prosecutor that is digging into kickbacks from RQA to legislators and state agencies.

Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach), concerned about prostitutes and drugs on the Grand Strand, proposed an amendment to speed implementation of the money laundering law – before the regulations were written to implement the law. Clemmons’ amendment was on the agenda at the subcommittee meeting when a reporter asked Crangle to comment on the amendment. After Crangle told her that the money laundering bill could apply to legislators taking kickbacks from their consultants, she began asking the subcommittee members if the law could be applied in the current campaign finance scandal. Crangle said legislators were running around like the Keystone Kops when they realized they were about to pass a law to criminalize the redirection of campaign donations into the pockets of their Republican colleagues. Clemmons pulled his amendment, apparently to ensure the new law prevents legislators from being defined as prostitutes.

See story in The State.

2. Independent Redistricting Commission (H-3339: Funderburk, Cobb-Hunter)
This would establish an independent body of seven non-legislators to draw new political districts. The current 170 legislative districts and seven congressional districts have been drawn by the majority party of the legislature, and have resulted in the nation’s least competitive elections. The current districts established a majority-white, Republican rule that insures that Republicans will draw the new districts in 2020. It’s a good guess that the Republicans will not draw competitive districts that would require them to address the concerns of all the people in their districts. Our politically gerrymandered districts result in 78 percent of South Carolinians having only one candidate to chose from in general elections. The current situation allows the majority party to chose who votes for them, rather than giving the citizens a choice.

The chances of the bill passing are slim to none. But the Network is using the bill to help people understand the true gravity of our broken democracy. The Network’s spring conference on April 15 will focus on this problem. (As they become available, details will be posted on our web calendar and Facebook event page.)

3. Special Election Restitution Act (S-533)
New state senator, Progressive Legislative Caucus ally, and longtime Network member Mike Fanning introduced this bill less than a month after taking office. It requires elected officials who are removed from office due to a criminal conviction to pay the cost of the special election to replace them. The bill has gotten national attention, as it appears that no state has such a provision. Crangle got the idea for the bill after state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel was busted for cocaine and a special session of the legislature was called to replace him. Crangle convinced federal Judge Joe Anderson to add $28,000 to Ravenel’s sentence to cover the session’s costs. Crangle has lined up Judge Anderson to testify in favor of the bill. The only opposition to this reasonable bill will be legislators fearing indictment or planning a criminal enterprise.

4. Dark Money Bill
This was introduced by Sen. Hugh Leatherman this year after he was targeted by the deep-pocketed political action committees of the Koch Brothers. The Kochs dumped money into primary campaigns of Tea Party candidates to oppose Republicans who supported increasing SC’s gas tax. Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that corporations have free speech rights and SC doesn’t require disclosure of donations to independent advocacy organizations, liberals are being swamped by right-wing money. In a turn of the screw, Koch front groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth have been targeting Republicans who dare to suggest a tax increase of any kind. Leatherman, arguably the most powerful politician in SC, was in a tight race against a dark-money fueled opponent. Sens. Wes Hayes and Larry Martin both lost their seats to dark-money candidates because they dared to support a gas tax.

It was bizarre theater at the hearing. The cast of characters included Koch-supported veteran organizations, Tea Party representatives, and anti-choice activists who testified that their supporters would be afraid to donate to their organizations if their names were disclosed.

Being “business friendly” makes South Carolinians work sick and cheap

Just when you thought South Carolina couldn’t be more business-friendly, the Senate passed a bill on Feb. 8 to ensure that we not only work cheap but also work sick. The bill passed by a 32-8 vote, with six Democrats voting with Republicans.

Introduced every session for the last five years, the bill would prohibit local governments from requiring businesses to provide any employee benefits, such as sick leave. If it becomes law, the “work-sick” requirement will be tacked onto a “work-cheap” law passed in 2002 that bars local governments from setting a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum. (South Carolina is one of five states with no minimum wage.)

If it’s hard to see how such legislation benefits ordinary South Carolinians, it’s because that was never the intent.

To put the issue in perspective, at least 145 countries provide paid sick days, with 127 providing a week or more annually. The United States is among the few countries that doesn’t require paid sick leave for all workers (McGill University’s “Work, Family, and Equity Index”), which is what’s prompting cities to act and big business to react.

Both the “work-cheap” and the “work-sick” bills can be traced back to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate-funded bill mill where “business-friendly” conservative legislators and corporations craft model state legislation that benefits the corporate bottom line. A paid sick days preemption bill, originally passed in Wisconsin in 2011, was shopped around at an ALEC meeting that year by the National Restaurant Association, and similar bills were subsequently introduced in at least 13 other states, including South Carolina.

The bill was rushed through the Senate in 12 days, and is now on the way to the House, where we need to insure that it is given a thorough public vetting.

The ALEC task force behind the bill is co-chaired by YUM! Brands, Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Fast food and lodging corporations are leading the fight against sick leave. Not surprisingly, these corporations are among LCI members campaign contributors.

A study by the Food Chain Workers Alliance “The Hands that Feed Us” found that 79 percent of food industry workers do not earn paid sick days. Another study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, found that more than half of all outbreaks of the stomach flu can be linked to sick food service workers. Numerous economic studies show that paid sick days are a benefit to employers who want to retain a skilled and dedicated workforce, save more than it costs in medical expenses, and reduce the impact of communicable diseases.

The “work- sick” bills target cities in Republican-controlled states that might consider sick days ordinances. Ironically, these bill are an example of the very “big government” that these same Republicans rail against.

Imagine that the Hilton Head town council decides that its well-heeled visitors deserve some assurance that they are not being served by sick workers and puts the issue of sick leave to a referendum. This bill would prevent Hilton Head voters from passing an ordinance ensuring that workers who take a few, non-paid, sick days a year not get fired.

Under current law, more than 600,000 people in South Carolina must choose between working sick, staying home with a sick child, or getting paid. To many, making the responsible choice means getting fired. This bill will make sure that nothing changes.

The folks from ALEC, who brought us the photo ID law to restrict who gets to vote, are now pushing legislation to restrict what we get to vote on.

The six Democratic senators who voted to keep you working sick are: Gerald Malloy, Thomas McElveen, Nikki Setzler, Kent Williams, Floyd Nicholson and Glen Reese. Full campaign disclosures on senators voting for this bill to follow.

Brett Bursey is the Executive Director of the SC Progressive Network. Email him at network@scpronet.com.

Message to enraged and newly engaged Network members

Like the rest of the world, the SC Progressive Network is coming to grips with the new social and political reality since the election. We’ve mourned. We’ve raged. Now we’re moving to the next stage: organizing like our lives depended on it. We are glad that you’ve joined us.

Progressives must work collaboratively and strategically to map a way forward – together. These perilous times offer an opportunity to grow the revolution of social values the Network has been working toward for 20 years. It is going to take discipline, hard work, and a lot of help. We need your time, your talent, your energy, your ideas, and your financial support. (Become a member by clicking here. Already a member but want to make a donation? Click here.)

We have an influx of new members to the Network, and a renewed interest from organizations who are in the process of re-joining or becoming members for the first time. Interest on social media also has spiked. (If you haven’t already, join us on Twitter and Facebook. You can also view video clips of Network events and rallies on our YouTube channel.)

Columbia’s November meeting attracted some 140 people, so many that we had to change our meeting space. We may have to do the same in December; check the calendar when we send it next week for the meeting location.

To accommodate our growth spurt, and to find ways to engage our new members, we are expanding our meeting schedule so that those who can’t make a regular monthly meeting can pick a different day and time and get together for a breakfast or lunch meeting, or for an after-work or Sunday afternoon social. We will solicit comments from our members and implement our broader calendar in January.

We are in the beginning stages of organizing an event for SC folks who are not going to Washington to protest the inauguration. We’ll be talking about it at our next chapter meetings. Ideas welcome. We may model it after the InHogural ball we held to celebrate Gov. Nikki Haley’s taking the helm in 2011.

inhogural_low_resTo newcomers, we welcome you with gratitude and great hope for building a broader and more united force to resist the rising tide of oppression and fascism. Please feel free to call or email our office with your questions or suggestions, or to get assigned a task. Meanwhile, please visit our web site to see the projects we’re working on and ways you can get involved.

We wish you all peace during the the coming holidays. If you’re in Columbia, please join us for our annual celebration of Modjeska Monteith Simkins’ birthday on Dec. 5 at her home, 2025 Marion St. The casual drop-in between 5:30-7pm is open to all.

Onward!

4The November Network meeting in Columbia attracted such a large crowd we had to move to a larger space. More pics here.

Tracking racial profiling and the militarization of cop shops in SC – and how YOU can help!

In 2000, the Network released a study on the racial disparities in our criminal justice system that found SC arresting nearly 10% of black citizens every year, a rate unequaled in the world. In 2001, as a tool to identify and mitigate the racial profiling that drives arrest rates, we wrote and introduced legislation to require all cops to report data on all stops. It wasn’t until 2006, when the legislature’s Republican majority needed Black Caucus votes to over ride Gov. Sanford’s veto of a mandatory seat belt bill (necessary to continue receiving federal highway funds), that our racial profiling bill was passed.

We later learned that our bill was watered down by a conference committee of five white legislators to require only warning tickets be reported.

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Kyle Criminger (left) and Rep. Joe Neal lead discussion on racial profiling project at the Network’s fall retreat. See video below.

Our racial profiling project has made inroads with state and local law enforcement agencies about how they will benefit from the improved race relations that will come from a transparent public data base of all stops. Our plan for the coming legislative session is to get the cops to be the ones calling for strengthening the reporting requirements.

As part of our ongoing effort to research and reduce racial bias, we have expanded our work to include the factors that contribute to the militarization of our police. We want to lead a public and political dialogue about whether our local police are warriors or guardians.

Network Cochair Kyle Criminger updated members on the racial profiling project at the group’s fall retreat. Based on a review of racial disparities in arrest rates and a new law requiring cops to report the race of those stopped for traffic warnings, our study reveals that most police agencies in South Carolina are breaking the law by not reporting. The most recent report on the Department of Public Safety’s web site reveals that most of the state’s police agencies are not in compliance.

The Network is circulating this study to stimulate public dialogue about racial profiling and to encourage police agencies to advocate for a database that records all stops to allow for increased transparency.

For more information, see http://scpronet.com.

Sen. Clementa Pinckney fought for publicly financed elections. It’s still a good idea.

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Sen. Clementa Pinckney addresses the media at a SC Progressive Network press conference at the State House in 2001. He was the lead sponsor of the clean elections bill, first filed in 2000, to reduce the influence of money in South Carolina elections. A study done for the Network in 2001 by the University of South Carolina found that a majority of citizens – Republicans, Democrats and Independents – support clean elections. It concluded that: “More than 60 percent of those surveyed believe that the cost of elections keeps many qualified people from running for public office, a majority believes that the state should have a system of public financing, and almost 60 percent would support a system of public financing if it would cost the average citizen about $3.50 a year.”

Know your SC herstory? Download booklet profiling legal pioneer Sarah Leverette

sarah_leverette_cvovershotThe SC Progressive Network‘s recently published profile of Sarah Leverette, which is being distributed free in select spots in Columbia – including our office at 2025 Marion St. – is now available for free download here.

The booklet is the final of a set of booklets about three extraordinary South Carolina women: Leverette, human rights activist Modjeska Monteith Simkins, and LGBT advocate Harriet Hancock. The two-year project was made possible by a generous grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission, which shares our belief that history is our greatest teacher.

For information about the booklets, call the Network at 803-808-3384 or email network@scpronet.com.

 

Election update: working a rigged system – and winning!

In keeping with the Network’s analysis that there are few races that aren’t preordained in South Carolina, through gerrymandered districts and other tools that rig the system, SC ProVote, the Network’s C-4, picked two campaigns on which to spend our resources.

In the campaign for Senate District 17 (Fairfield, Chester and York), we supported Mike Fanning, a progressive candidate who we thought had a solid chance at winning. In the other campaign, our mission was to remove the Lee Bright from Senate District 12 (Greenville, Spartanburg) by promoting his Republican opposition.

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Mike Fanning speaks to at the Network’s annual fall conference at Penn Center.

We are pleased to report that our preferred candidates won in both races.

Progressive Network member Fanning forced a run-off and beat the longtime Democratic incumbent Creighton Coleman. Network volunteers made hundreds of phone calls and our Rock Hill chapter knocked on many doors in the York County portion of the district. We are thrilled that he will be an ally in the State House.

Sen. Lee Bright, the indefatigable bigot who wages futile battles against civilization, will not be going back to the Senate. Our upstate members made calls to Democrats encouraging them to vote for Spartanburg attorney Scott Talley in the June primary. We know Talley from his time in the House and consider him rational. While we don’t expect Tally to be progressive, we are reminded that there are no permanent friends, or permanent enemies in the legislature, only temporary allies.

Crossover voting in the primary has long been a taboo. But now that political districts have been drawn to insure Republican dominance of the legislature, Democrats in these districts won’t have a say in who represents them unless they vote in the Republican primary. 75% of the 170 legislators are chosen in the primary, so the majority of citizens only have one person to vote for in the general election – like the old Soviet style elections we used to make fun of.

The Network has long argued that we can’t rely on an electoral system that is driven by money and corporate influence to solve our problems. We must take on and sustain, the long, hard task of building a popular movement with the power to make real change.

A look back at three weeks that changed South Carolina

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The racially motivated tragedy in Charleston’s Emanuel Church ignited a renewed resolve to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s State House grounds, something the SC Progressive Network committed to 20 years ago at its founding conference. At a rally organized just days after the murders, Network Director Brett Bursey addressed the crowd of nearly two thousand, asking the assembled to become part of a social movement.

As lawmakers in special session deliberated the fate of the flag in the SC State House, citizens gathered outside in the blistering heat to demand action. The handful of Confederate supporters there got an earful.

On July 4, hundreds gathered to rally for the third time to demand lawmakers remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. Kevin Gray spoke for the SC Progressive Network.