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State Integrity supporter back on ballot in South Carolina

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South Carolina Supreme Court

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South Carolina State Sen. Mike Rose is a lucky man. The Republican lawmaker from Summerville known for championing ethics reform lost his primary bid, with his opponent winning 60 percent of the vote — but he can still stay in office. 

How is that possible? Rose is an incumbent in an election year that has seen roughly 250 non-incumbent candidates kicked off ballots all across South Carolina because of a controversial State Supreme Court decision and a filing technicality related to campaign paperwork.

It used to be that candidates had to file a business disclosure form, called a Statement of Economic Interest, to their party official along with their petition for candidacy. But in 2010, the law was changed to mandate they also file electronically with the state’s ethics agency.

So, many candidates filed online or in person, but not both. Some did neither. (Incumbents were exempt because they already had a copy on file.)

After a lawsuit was filed to determine the fate of those who hadn’t filed properly, the State Supreme Court ruled in May that any candidate who did not file both online and in person should be removed from the ballot.

The fallout was catastrophic and meant that roughly 250 non-incumbent candidates for local and state offices around the Palmetto State were struck from their ballots in a year when all 170 South Carolina House and Senate seats were up for grabs. 

Reverberations from the High Court’s ruling are still being felt.

Consider state Senate candidate Sean Bennett who beat incumbent Rose nearly a month ago by a large margin at the polls.

Now, his nomination has been overturned after his county Republican Party chair decertified him and two other non-incumbents for allegedly filing improperly.

For his part, Bennett, a financial planner, told the Center for Public Integrity that he was “very careful,” and that he “filed in accordance with the law.” He’s hired a lawyer to see what can be done about his situation.

Politically, his only recourse to get back on the ballot for November would be to run as a write-in candidate. No Democrat will be on the ballot, meaning Rose, who initially lost his GOP primary, will so far run unopposed now that he is the default nominee.

Rose has been a close follower of the State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven assessment of accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 states, which gave South Carolina an F. Rose has said he plans to introduce a series of reform measures based on the report next year.

Shortly after the report’s release, Rose participated in a conference call with some of the project’s authors and signaled an interest in drafting a comprehensive overhaul of state ethics laws that would use the report’s findings as a basis for specific actions.

Rose served in South Carolina’s Senate from 1988 to 1996. After more than a decade out of office, he ran again in 2008 and has served since then.

His journeys to the Senate have been consistently charmed, recalled John Crangle, a political science professor and director of the state’s chapter of Common Cause.

The Senator who beat Rose in his first election got himself into some legal trouble and was forced out, allowing Rose pick up that seat in 1988, Crangle said. After losing another election, the Senator who beat him also got in legal trouble and was forced out as well.

“So Mike stepped over two corpses to get back in,” Crangle said. “And now he’s stepping over another one.”

Correction, July 20, 9:55 a.m.: We orginally reported that Rose lost by 60 percentage points, this was not accurate. In fact, Rose's opponent won 60 percent of the vote. We've changed the story to correct this error.