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Greenville News,
Posted Monday, November 12, 2001 - 2:28 am

Elections panel loses patience with Hodges
By Dan Hoover

Frustrated by Gov. Jim Hodges' seven-month refusal to address the campaign finance reform recommendations he appointed them to develop, members of the bipartisan panel have gone public with the report.

Recommendations include tough new requirements for full financial disclosure by political parties and enforcement powers for the Ethics Commission. Hodges vetoed a disclosure bill last year.

Laurel Suggs, president of the state chapter of the League of Women Voters and a panel member, said, "We really don't know why" Hodges won't release it. "We've asked what was going on and we really haven't gotten an answer."

John Crangle, executive director of the state chapter of Common Cause and a fellow panelist, said Hodges "apparently doesn't like the recommendations, particularly public financing and the requirement it would impose on the Democratic Party to disclose its donors. He wouldn't sign the disclosure bill last year that the Republicans passed.

Appointing the task force "was a transparent and cynical scheme to buy time," Crangle said.

Hodges, a Democrat with more than a $2 million edge in financing over the nearest potential 2002 GOP challenger, said there's ample time to develop the report into legislation.

Dick Harpootlian, a panelist and state Democratic Party chairman who supported most of the recommendations, sided with Hodges' go-slow approach.

Harpootlian said that with "whatever might pass, it's not going to take effect until the next election cycle" for 2004. "There's plenty of time."

"It's buried," said Henry McMaster, a panel member and state GOP chairman. "I don't think the governor ever had any intention to release it. The whole thing is a fraud."

Major recommendations were:

Disclosure by political parties and independent organizations promoting candidates or ballot issues of all donations.

Public financing of statewide and legislative campaigns.

Electronic filing of finance report by candidates, including donors' names, addresses, occupations and employers. All reports would be posted on the Internet.

Making the state Ethics Commission the "sole agency" for filing contribution reports with enhanced and "exclusive enforcement power" in dealing with violations and increased openness.

Banning corporate and union contributions.

Members also agreed that the Legislature should consider raising the current donation limits of $3,500 per contributor for statewide races and $1,000 for legislative races. They made no dollar recommendation.

In addition to Suggs, Crangle, Harpootlian and McMaster, the task force included John Montgomery, dean of the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Both party chairmen disagreed with the majority's call for public financing.

"Maybe (Hodges) has more pressing matters," Montgomery said. The educator said he never expected immediate action because the report came during the middle of an election cycle.

But Suggs said that Hodges has had enough time, especially after release of a separate election reform task force report, and "since they go hand in hand, we decided it was time people see we're trying to address these issues."

"We're not willing to let it die," Suggs said.

Hodges created the Governor's Task Force on Campaign Finance Reform after he vetoed financial disclosure legislation he said was unconstitutional.

The panel said its goals included promoting greater credibility and participation in the political system among voters, encouraging a wider range of candidates, minimizing the impact of money, and discouraging corruption.
Dan Hoover covers politics and can be reached at 298-4993.