Old hat by now in the Palmetto State, a recent corruption scandal has plagued the South Carolina campaign process as former Lt. Governor Ken Ard stepped down from his post before pleading guilty to seven counts of illegal campaign finance manipulation late last week. He’s been replaced by former Senate President Pro Tempore, Glenn McConnell, who will have headway to make in saving face for the state GOP in the coming weeks and months. Indeed, the party acknowledges that Ard’s indictment has been a long time coming, as investigations date back to mid-summer last year.
State prosecutors noted that Ard laundered his own money through associates to then make illegal contributions back to his 2010 Lt. Governor bid, “netting” $87,000 in nonexistent contributions in early 2009 as other candidates such as Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor were fighting for Big Whig donors around the state. Says fundraising expert and BGW affiliate in the state Bob Wislinski, “an important part of any campaign early on is securing a stranglehold on the perception that you’re out-fundraising your opponents – which then enables you to actually do so.” That Ard had falsified his campaign’s financing created the illusion that he was the winning ticket, thus encouraging subsequent donors to get behind his bid. Among his various financing follies, the former LG also used misappropriated campaign funds for personal purchases like tickets, airfare, clothing, and various other expenses.
But we’ll move past this, SC. We will. We always do. A head held high in the South and a personal pride in kindness, generosity and good faith are the essence of our genteel hospitality and charm. And that trickles on down to our morality and our sense of justice in governance, yes?
Not if morality and justice are analogs of ethics. And not if we’ve seen nearly ten direct – and major – public ethics violations, be they prosecuted or not, in just the past decade. A brief survey of a recent The State article recounts our ethical celebrity. From Sharpe to Ravenel to Viers (still in office), legislative misplay is rife. Circle in the current and past Governors’ personal life questions and the legacy of Strom Thurmond’s hypocritical bigotry and we’ve got a three-ringed circus. Oh wait, lest we forget the “You lie!” incident. There’s hardly a better background for using the oft-trending Twitter term, “SMH,” as a result. In fact, I’ve found myself shaking my head many, many times over the past ten years.
All this said, as a SC native and currently being back and forth between South Carolina’s capital and our nation’s capital, I’ve found myself sticking to, “I’m from Carolina” in introduction, rather than meddling in the prejudgment that would follow any further specificity. And so, one day recently I got to wondering, “Why the heck does this happen in our state? And what do we do fix it?” Its corruptibility is almost predictable at this point – it really is. But there really hadn’t been a reasonable explanation until I recently read a great analysis in The Atlantic.
Titled, “South Carolina and the Perils of Single-Party Governance,” the article points to what should’ve been so clear all along: we lack the diversity in worldview needed to secure a built-in political check and balance. That it’s a given that GOP-ers will win seats means that the party can put forward unimpressive candidates and still beat Dems. And so with less impressive candidates goes less impressive ethics. It’s no wonder we see a scandal-a-year when we’re plopping out people to run our Agriculture Department who participate in cockfighting. Nothing like someone who knows how to torture and perpetuate cruelty to livestock running an agricultural office! How insanely ridiculous. What we need is some more ideological – and so with that, cultural – diversity to widen SC’s breadth of ideas.
But therein lies the problem: the state’s current melting pot of ideas is that of a flavorless borscht. You wouldn’t wish it on any culinary palette. With that being said, I charge that we do, in fact, have potential. It exists out there in the ideo-stratosphere: there are forward-thinking thoughts in this state to be had. They are largely untapped and underused. See recent big-biz efforts to muddy green ideas in the state. And a GOP governor vetoing port legislation that will advance business and outside imports. Enacting these simple ideas brings progress. And they represent it too. But we have to overcome those ideologues who bludgeon progress – both red and blue.
By starting with the incorporation of new-age ideas – yes, acting like we’re in the 21st century – even the South can begin to slowly but surely turn its head forward. It’s up to my generation to recognize these needs. It matters naught that I lean moderately left personally (but support candidates, not parties); this is just as important for my generation’s Right in ensuring their candidates and future hold as much ethical ground as their own party leaders would want – and vice versa on the other side of the aisle. Indeed, a brave concept emerges that’s not a new one: just as our forefathers before us recognized, diversity in belief leads to the most justice in action.