A New Opportunity for the Policy Council

A LITTLE MORE WORK AND TRUE REFORM CAN HAPPEN.

The Policy Council has been advocating legislative and fiscal reform in South Carolina for many years, and we’ve never seen a moment like this one. It’s our belief, in fact, that we now have an opportunity to achieve – not just to make the case for, but actually to achieve – the reforms citizens have advocated for years:

  • judicial independence
  • eliminating lawmakers’ exemption from the Freedom of Information Act
  • income disclosure for elected officials
  • ending secrecy in corporate welfare deals
  • abolishing lawmakers’ power to police themselves

Only when these reforms happen will we see any progress on the issues that really matter to you: school choice, lower taxes, real cuts to government spending and power, fewer regulations, and independence from federal money and mandates. To make all these reforms reality, though, we have to take the opportunity now before us. The question we’d like to ask our supporters is this: Does the South Carolina Policy Council have what it takes to get the job done? Is SCPC is worth the investment? As you think about your answer, consider: SCPC makes things happen. We don’t send out a lot of unread studies and hold a lot of useless seminars. And we’re not interested in “solutions” that sound great but don’t limit politicians’ power or expand South Carolinians’ personal and economic freedoms. Instead, we change behavior. Here are just a few examples of that from 2014.

  • In June, The Nerve discovered that a Columbia-based nonprofit group had reimbursed the state to the tune of $52,000. That happened as a result of a 2013 Nerve story revealing that the organization’s late president was under investigation in connection with the alleged misspending of state money allotted to the group.
  • Before that, The Nerve revealed not only that Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) led a quiet an effort to give lawmakers a $12,000 pay raise, but also that the move was unconstitutional and that the state had commissioned a made-to-order “study” recommending it. Eventually lawmakers weren’t able to pass the proposed pay raise without attracting unwanted attention, and it died in the Senate.
  • That same week, lawmakers tried to pass what they called an “ethics reform bill” – a bill that, in its original form, would have decriminalized ethics laws governing politicians behavior, and punished citizens who testify before legislative committees. They took out those provisions, but slipped in others: the final version would have forced groups like ours to disclose their donors if they named politicians in the run-up to an election, and allowed elected officials to use campaign money on virtually anything. We analyzed the bill, and hundreds of citizens confronted lawmakers with that analysis. The bill was killed on the final day of session.
  • Or take The Nerve’s revelation that neither the State Board of Education nor the Education Oversight Committee had consulted any parents before altering the state’s assessment system to align with Common Core – this despite the fact that state law requires state officials to consult with parents before making changes to the state’s standards system. The Education Oversight Committee – we presume as a result – is now vocally asking parents to weigh in on new state standards.
  • Or consider an issue that’s brought state sovereignty into focus across the nation: Common Core. Last year, South Carolina school teachers were busy implementing the federalized standards system, despite the fact that hardly anyone in South Carolina even knew what it was. Once we began publishing hard-hitting explanations of what Common Core was and how it came about, the real debate started. Fast forward a year. Not only has the legislature mandated a review of existing standards, but Mick Zais’s Department of Education is writing completely new, non-Common Core standards. We don’t know yet what the new standards will look like, what the new state superintendent will do, or whether the federal government will try to coerce state policymakers into realigning with Common Core, but we do know this: South Carolinians now know what it is, and many are prepared to do something about it.
  • And in January of this year, The Nerve persuaded two Supreme Court justices – for the first time in state history – to voluntarily reveal their sources of private income. By law, citizens have no way to know how judges make their non-judicial income, allowing conflicts of interest to remain hidden. After the two justices’ decision, however – and The Nerve’s story was covered on the front page of The State newspaper – conflicts of interest in the judiciary have become a topic of open debate. That’s a major win the reform movement – just ask the almost 200 challengers thrown off the ballot on a technicality by the notoriously incumbent-friendly Supreme Court in 2012.

These efforts didn’t just put politicians and agency officials on the spot, and they didn’t just “raise awareness.” They did both those things, but they didn’t stop there. They changed policies. They altered behavior. They made things happen. And these are just the victories we’ve achieved this year. We could go further back – think about how dead-set against roll-call voting lawmakers were until 2011 when they were cornered into passing it, or the online check registers that government agencies now maintain as a result of our analysis and grassroots pressure. So to return to the question: Is the Policy Council worth your investment? We think it is. If you agree, we’d like to ask you to consider helping us today. Here’s how:

Recently, a generous group of South Carolinians offered the Policy Council a $200,000 matching grant. If we raise $200,000, they’ll double it. That would enable us to keep doing what we do best – but with far greater frequency, speed, and technological creativity.

With greater resources, we can take the momentum we have right now – with the State House’s corrupt power structure part of almost every day’s news – and restore South Carolina’s citizen-controlled republic. South Carolina is at a crucial point in its history. Over the next year, we could go either way. Legislative leaders could consolidate their power and shut out public scrutiny altogether, or our politicians could begin to face the accountability other states impose on their elected officials. With added resources to push our message harder and disperse it wider, we believe we can determine which one of these outcomes becomes reality.

Will you help us? If so, here’s how.

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