I am so very, very fatigued by all the tumult going on in our county. I like to write about the wonderful people, the beauty of our neighborhoods and wild spaces, and all the good that is being done in the name of this community.
Sadly, that is not possible this week.
Last week, the S.C. Supreme Court affirmed a law that in essence said that if you intended to be a candidate for any elected office in any county in the June primaries, then you had to file a form attesting to your “economic interests” at the same time you filed your intention to be a candidate.
In short, that form, known as a Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) tells the voting public where your money comes from, what you own both privately and as a business person, any reimbursements or gifts from any organization that might come under the filer’s agency, and any debt that might be owed by the filer to a person, agency or organization that might be likewise involved.
It seems a little heavy handed but it is designed to keep outsiders from buying candidates, and I think we can all agree that is a good thing.
These forms, required to be filed electronically are also due from already elected officials. For candidates, the law says they are due at the time they officially file to be a candidate.
For the primaries, that is done with a county’s party chairperson. That person is chosen at a local convention or caucus (fancy terms for a gathering) and is to be the leader of that party.
In South Carolina, as electors, we do not have to declare our allegiance to one party or the other. Check your voter’s registration card. However, because we insist on making all our elected officials choose a party, we are forced to have primary elections. They are expensive, divisive and in this county, almost always one-sided. But that’s a column issue for another day.
Okay, so here’s what happened.
In Lexington County, a long-tenured, very powerful senator found himself with some pretty strong opposition … from the other party. Someone in his machine discovered that this opponent had failed to file the required SEI in a timely manner. The incumbent went to the S.C. Ethics Commission and filed a complaint. It got all tangled up and eventually (and in surprisingly quick order) the S.C. Supreme Court was asked for a ruling. The South Carolina high court affirmed the law as it was clear and fair. That ruling disqualified the Lexington challenger.
However, because we operate on the “what’s good for one, is good for all” principle, the high court’s ruling caused the Ethics Commission to audit all the filings for the June primaries and lo and behold, there were more than 100 candidates so afflicted.
In Lexington County, it was the Republican challenger who got bumped. In Clarendon County, it was eight Democratic challengers. The Clarendon Republicans, with their one lone candidate, did their job. Their leader did his or her job. They LED their candidate through the process.
That didn’t happen with our county’s Democrats.
For the record, though it is technically nobody’s business, this ruling helped some of my candidates, hurt some others. Regardless, it is so unfair.
I have no objection to the law. I want my candidates to be open, transparent and beyond reproach.
I have no objection to the court’s ruling. That’s why we have a judicial branch … to “judge” the validity of laws. They don’t make laws, they review them. It’s that third arm of the checks and balances game.
I am very disappointed in the election of a party leader whose excuse for this failure is “I didn’t know.” I believe this leader is claiming he got a packet of information from the State Election Commission and this Statement of Economic Interests instruction wasn’t in there. Sorry, not buying that. If you are going to hold yourself up as your party’s leader, you should successfully be able to lead the candidates who look to you for guidance, with or without anything.
On the other hand, anyone wanting to be a candidate for a public office should have gathered his or her own information and not relied on someone else to feed you. But, in the face of someone claiming to be your party leader, you should be able to have a modicum of trust.
These disqualified candidates have spent considerable money already in campaign promotions not to mention filing fees. I don’t know what of that can be recouped, but if I were in this position, I would be angry beyond measure.
Many are asking why the incumbents seem to be favored in this ordeal. It’s because elected officials (and a few hired or appointed officials) are required to have this Statement of Economic Interest on file at all times and it is to be filed on an annual basis. So, they were already covered. It’s a fluke, because as candidates, they were mostly late as well, but the Ethics Commission does not differentiate between filing as an official and filing as a candidate. It’s the same thing as far as they are concerned.
Here’s what could happen next.
Candidates could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for relief from the state’s ruling. I seriously doubt this could happen. Things do not move in 45-day increments in the land’s highest court unless life and death are at stake. Appeals to the Big Nine take years, not weeks.
The State Legislature could repeal the old law and stick in a new one. I think they will make an effort in this direction, but I have grave reservations about this. Would you want to be the legislator who is known for striking down laws because it didn’t work out so well for some of your cronies? I’m not so sure and the precedent that would set could be really, really dangerous. Besides, every member of the House and many of the Senators are running for reelection. I can’t see them making a change in the law.
Lastly, any candidate previously declared or not, can file to run as an independent in November. That is called a “Nomination by Petition.” The petition process requires signatures from at least five percent of the active (have voted in an election in the past two years), registered voters in that particular race. The “Nomination by Petition” form must be filed by noon on July 15. Candidates for state offices must file with the State Election Commission, while candidates for county offices must file with their county Election Commission.
This is the option I hope our disqualified candidates take because as an electorate, we deserve the option of choosing. I am never completely satisfied when an official is re-elected without opposition, even when the incumbent would have gotten my vote anyway. A vigorous competition between candidates is what insures us that the best candidate available is holding office and representing the will of the majority.
Now that it looks like we won’t even have a primary, I beseech all the candidates, qualified and disqualified, to get their signs off our highways and byways. They’re a necessary evil when necessary, but right now, they are just messing up our beautiful views. Thanks guys.
See you in November, I hope.