Ethics champion Mike Rose loses big in South Carolina

Surprise loser in primary had championed reform based on State Integrity Investigation

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A Republican state senator in South Carolina known for championing ethics reform legislation has gone down in an upset primary election here.

Mike Rose, a close follower of the State Integrity Investigation — which gave South Carolina an F — had planned to introduce a series of reform measures based on the report next year.

That won't happen.

Earlier this week, challenger Sean Bennett, 44, roundly beat Rose, of Summerville, with a grassroots campaign that raised $17,000, compared to the $60,000 that Rose, a 64-year-old former Judge Advocate General’s Corps officer, had in his coffers.

It will be the first time Bennett, a financial planner, has held elected office. He won with 60 percent of the vote. No Democrat has filed to run in the general election held in November.

The defeated 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.

Months ago, the state's Republican treasurer, Curtis Loftis, was eating lunch with Rose when John Crangle, who runs South Carolina’s state's chapter of Common Cause, approached the table.

“You'll never see a piece of ethics legislation without his name on it,” Crangle told Loftis, gesturing to Rose.

Crangle was the only lobbyist for South Carolina's last ethics overhaul bill, which passed in 1991.

Ethics issues in South Carolina government may have reached a new tipping point. 

The state's Republican governor, Nikki Haley, is the subject of an investigation by a legislative ethics panel that is looking into whether she illegally lobbied as a legislator.

At issue is what Haley did for more than $40,000 in consulting income from an engineering firm with state contracts that she did not report on her ethics forms because it wasn't required; also being probed is what she did for $110,000 from a hospital while it was seeking approval for a heart center in her district.

Haley has defended herself by arguing that many state lawmakers have business dealings with companies that benefit from state government, and that there's nothing wrong with that.

“The prevalence and acceptance of business relationships between lawmakers and special interests in South Carolina might warrant federal intervention, [good government advocacy groups] said last week,” according to a June 11 story in the Charleston Post & Courier.

South Carolina earned an F in legislative accountability in the SII report.

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

With Rose out of office in South Carolina, that banner will likely be taken up by Republican Sen. Wes Hayes of Rock Hill, who chairs the Senate Ethics Committee.

“What I plan to do next year is come forward with an omnibus ethics bill dealing with a number of things ... that were brought out in your report,” Hayes said in May.

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