Project Income Disclosure 2017
WHY DISCLOSURE MATTERS – AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
In 2008, the Policy Council published a report recommending the mandatory disclosure of all income sources for elected officials. South Carolina had arguably the most lax disclosure laws in the country; indeed there was virtually no requirement at all for officials to reveal anything about who pays them.
The result was something SCPC has since termed legal corruption. Conflicts of interest were, in the eyes of the law code, basically okay. State lawmakers routinely introduce, promote, and even vote on legislation that directly benefits their clients – that is, their income sources. The laws on recusal are fine as far as they go, but far more important is for voters to know – if they choose – who pays their elected officials.
In 2014 SCPC launched Project Conflict Watch, which gave citizens the opportunity simply to ask their elected officials who pays them. The idea was imply this: If lawmakers weren’t going to pass a tough disclosure law, there was nothing to prevent their constituents asking them to disclose their income sources voluntarily. About a third of the legislature chose to disclose their income sources to their constituents.
In 2016, lawmakers passed and the governor signed a law that purported to require income disclosure. There were just two problems. First, the new law made it easy for lawmakers simply to “disclose” the name of their own company as their source of income – as if that tells their constituents anything about potential conflicts of interest. Second, the new law allows lawmakers to earn undisclosed government income through subcontracts. If a state lawmaker owns a company that subcontracts with another company that does work directly for the state, he is clearly in a position to enhance his own bottom line by means of his office, and yet he doesn’t have to disclose the relationship at all.
This year, then, we’re launching a related but remodeled disclosure project. Project Income Disclosure employs the same tactic – it gives citizens a chance to ask their lawmakers to do voluntarily what the law doesn’t yet require – but with this difference: This project aims to elicit more relevant answers about the relationships that enable some lawmakers to profit. The easy-to-answer disclosure form asks about work for lobbyist principals, work for government agencies, and government contracts and subcontracts.
With Project Income Disclosure, we’re not claiming that any one financial relationship constitutes is a conflict of interest. Many of these relationships are perfectly legal – for now anyway. We’re simply arguing that officials’ constituents have a right to know about the relationship, in detail.
Here’s how it works.
We’ve provided the form. You can download it, send it to your lawmakers, and ask them to fill it out and send it back to you. If they do – and if they don’t – forward their responses on to us. We will post the forms online and take a look at them ourselves as well.
This is a tool to empower, you, the citizen, to demand transparency of your lawmakers.