May 18, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Public Integrity Unit Likely Won’t Live Up to the Hype

Money and Corruption in SC

Editor’s Note: The following column was submitted by Nerve Citizen Reporter Katrina Fay of Hickory Tavern.

If the past is the best predictor of future, the proposed Public Integrity Unit (PIU) won’t deliver anything except vague promises and expertly composed excuses why S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson isn’t fighting public corruption as one of his top priorities.

Wilson says the PIU comes from a “new focus” for investigating public corruption. That’s a change. According to public records, he had very little.

It seems the PIU is an excuse for a bigger budget so Wilson can keep spending what he has on political causes like defending out-of-state resident Newt Gingrich from email attacks. Thanks, Attorney General Wilson, for focusing your eyes on this fight.

Per Chief Deputy Attorney General John McIntosh’s statement, Wilson doesn’t designate a budget for fighting public corruption.

“As you may be aware, this office does not investigate except in certain limited areas where there are designated funds for those investigations; i.e., (M)edicaid provider fraud, (M)edicaid recipient fraud and criminal securities,” according to the statement.

It appears Wilson allocates most of his office’s accountability report to criminal prosecution funding on more important crimes.

Like dog fighting – I guess it hurts citizens more than public corruption. According to page 16 of the report, Wilson designates funding to staff a full-time investigator and an attorney for dog fighting.

Wilson says the PIU is needed as” a new and independent way to investigate serious allegations,” describing it as a ‘limited partnership” of multiple government organizations to form “a broad base of capability, expertise in critical areas and the ability to reach all areas of the state.” I guess the laws we already paid for aren’t good enough to tell PIU members how to do this work.

Apparently PIU members don’t know how to coordinate with Title 1, Article 7 of the S.C. Code of Laws, which establishes the S.C. Commission on Prosecution Coordination. Section 1-7-910 says, “There is created a commission to coordinate all activities involving the prosecution of criminal cases in this State.” The State Law Enforcement Division’s chief is already a member of this commission. I guess SLED didn’t get enough experience “coordinating” on this commission, so the attorney general wants SLED to get more money to try again.

Title 1 is full of laws telling Wilson to do the job of “coordinating” investigation of public corruption. Sections 1-7-110, 1-7-117 and 1-7-130 give the attorney general specific duties relating to the Secretary of State. I guess if Wilson wasn’t allocating his budget to other priorities, he would do the reports on local law enforcement as 1-7-730 mandates him to do, in coordination with solicitors. I can’t find these reports anywhere.

It’s kind of like former Attorney General Henry McMaster’s agreement in the James Brown case. Wilson won’t disclose it under a litany of excuses, none of them factually evidenced. Notable FOIA attorney Jay Bender is the plaintiff’s attorney in a lawsuit against Wilson for FOIA violations. I’m guessing Bender wouldn’t be involved if the case didn’t have merit.

Wilson’s lack of transparency isn’t surprising. The accountability report doesn’t mention any activities focused on reducing South Carolina’s culture of secrecy.

His focus on other priorities explains why he’s not petitioning under 14-7-1630(B) for the state grand jury to investigate state House Speaker Bobby Harrell. Wilson says the PIU is needed for “faith and trust of its citizens.” Wilson could improve “faith and trust” without the PIU, if he reprioritized his budget. He could combat the Legislature’s conflict of interest, and use the laws that already exist to investigate and coordinate allegations of legislator misconduct with other agencies.

It’s not clear if attorney general spokesman Mark Powell intended to misrepresent the law with his statement, “By law, the House Ethics Committee would be the initial reviewing authority.” “Initial” applies only to the Legislature. Powell’s implication that the attorney general’s authority in 14-7-1630 is limited by activities of legislative ethics committees is inaccurate.

It appears Wilson wants complete control on reports of public corruption through the PIU, which would be comprised of executive branch agencies, including SLED. Sure, there’s no conflict of interest between PIU investigations and member interest in protecting executive branch officials – just like the legislative ethics committees aren’t protecting legislators.

I gave Wilson the opportunity to respond to my detailed, informal, partial review of his performance, including the record of his office’s disregard of my repeated reports of attorney misappropriation of public funding. He had an opportunity to demonstrate commitment to results when I asked him to provide data that could improve the review. In keeping with a past pattern of disregard, his office ignored my emails and phone calls about the review.

I sent an email to my legislators telling them not to spend money on new laws for the attorney general when he’s not using the laws we already have.

Wilson is becoming an exemplary politician, learning how to market lack of actionable results in specific job objectives, behind fluffy, vague, emotional “intention.”

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The Nerve