In general, Republicans are not getting along too well. That’s true at the state, as well as the national level. All one need do is watch the battle between some respected members of the U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump.
So maybe it should come as no surprise that back home in Columbia, the House Republican Caucus, which should be a bastion of open government, transparency and adherence to the state’s Freedom of Information Act, is instead fighting hard to keep certain records related to a Statehouse corruption probe under wraps.
In April, a media coalition filed a lawsuit against the caucus in an effort to gain access to records that would shed light on the corruption probe involving the father-son team of Richard and Rick Quinn. The younger Quinn is the former House majority leader. He and his father face conspiracy charges centering on illegal lobbying that potentially lined their pockets with millions of dollars. Suffice it to say it is a tangled and messy web that dates back the 2014 prosecution of former House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
It is well and good that a special prosecutor is handling the case (1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe), but it would be even better if the caucus would open the windows and doors on the files that belong in the public’s purview. Problem is, the members want to pick at nits and cite an opinion — a non-binding opinion — issued by then-Attorney General Henry McMaster. While McMaster said the state’s open-records laws do indeed apply to legislative political caucuses, he also said the Legislature can pass laws or chamber rules to create exemptions.
In seeking dismissal of the lawsuit, caucus attorney Jennifer Hollingsworth argued before a judge that the House did implement such a rule that shields the caucus from the request for documents.
If this sounds a bit like lawmakers flouting laws they impose on the citizenry, a common practice it seems, you’re correct. The S.C. House, at least the House Republican Caucus, seems adept at taking its cues from Capitol Hill.
The state open-records law already allows exemptions for correspondence of individual lawmakers as well as their staffs. It makes no exemption for caucuses.
All the Republican Caucus is doing is raising the level of suspicion of wrongdoing. Apparently it does not want the public, via the efforts of the media, to find out just how bad things really are in Columbia when it comes to the allegations of corruption. There seems room for little doubt they don’t want full and open reporting on what took place. Why? Perhaps it’s because there is a chance far more names than Quinn and Harrell will surface in the mire.
What else would explain their efforts to quash information getting into the public’s hands, especially if there is nothing to fear by doing so?
They, like so many in politics, stand on a foundation espousing principles of openness and transparency, only to quickly sink into the quicksand of hypocrisy when the light that would shine on them would reveal far too much.
The taxpayers and voters of South Carolina should hope Circuit Judge G. Thomas Cooper Jr. will allow the suit to proceed.
This editorial is from the Index-Journal of Greenwood via the S.C. Press Association.