What Income Disclosure Would Mean for You

 FOR STARTERS, YOU MIGHT LEARN THE REASONS FOR SOME OF YOUR LAWMAKERS’ VOTES

Suppose for a moment that you disapprove of a particular vote cast by your lawmaker. You think the bill is unwise, unfair, and you can’t imagine why your lawmaker would vote for it.

Then you wonder if he had financial reasons for voting as he did. An uncharitable thought? Maybe, but he’s a public figure making a public salary, you’re a taxpayer, and you have a right to know if your elected representative has a financial stake in any vote he casts.

What do you do? Well, in South Carolina, you can look up your representative’s Statement of Economic Interest (SEI), available to the public on the Ethics Commission website. But don’t expect to find much. Although public officials are required to disclose any public income – their government salaries, any money made from contracts with state agencies, etc. – they’re not required to disclose private income.

Indeed, South Carolina is the only state in the nation where state lawmakers are not required to disclose any private income.

So, for example, if your lawmaker voted to give a certain corporation special tax breaks, you might wonder if he just happens make money as a “consultant” for that same corporation. Or maybe he introduced a bill to protect a certain industry from out-of-state competition; you might wonder if he’s ever done any “work” for that industry group. But if you look up his SEI, you almost certainly won’t find anything.

Here, for example, is a typical SEI, drawn more or less at random:

“Filer,” says this “disclosure,” “does not have any personal income and benefit items to disclose.” Really?

In this case, the lawmaker records no private or public income: which is strange since, as a lawmaker, by definition he brings in at least some public money. But in most cases it will be pretty widely known how much public money a lawmaker earns.

The more important issue is private money, and here the lawmaker reports no income. None. Nor is he required to. So if this is your lawmaker, and you suspect he may have had a conflict of interest in a vote cast or bill introduced, you’re out of luck.

Members of Congress are required by law to disclose private income sources. Are our state lawmakers somehow less prone to conflicts of interests than members of Congress?

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