Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

South Carolina Tax Money Goes to Secretive, Illegal Charities

At least 32 charities that were not registered with the secretary of state’s office received more than $11 million through earmarks over the last two years. Some argue that this highlights a need for earmark reform.

(TNS) — If you were a lawmaker, wouldn’t you want to ensure you were giving taxpayers’ money to legally operating and legitimate charities?

If your answer is yes, congratulations, you’re not a South Carolina lawmaker.

Taxpayer money going to secretive and illegally operating charities is the latest discovery that points to the need for reform in earmark spending.

As reported by The State’s Zak Koeske, at least 32 charities that weren’t registered with the South Carolina Secretary of State’s Office as required by state law were awarded more than $11 million in the form of earmarks over the last two years.

Earmarks are funds in the state budget that lawmakers request. Earmarks aren’t all bad. Some fund noble or needed endeavors, but often lawmakers use earmarks to pay for pet projects that are legally questionable, such as Reps. Mike Burns, R- Greenville, and John McCravy, R- Greenwood, asking for and receiving $1.5 million for a private christian school. The South Carolina constitution bars public money from going to private and religious schools. The state is now being sued by a group asserting that the $1.5 million gift violates the state constitution. The group surely will prevail.

Even with Gov. Henry McMaster asking lawmakers this year to give written descriptions of what the earmarks would fund, the spending can be approved with little public knowledge of where the dollars go. State lawmakers often don’t question each other’s earmarks but instead abide by a mutual back-scratching policy. You don’t question mine, I won’t question yours.

Earmarks for questionable charities waste state money at best and fund self-serving charity operators and nepotistic politicians at worst. Not to mention, giving public money to unregistered charities is illegal.

For some of those 32 charities, not being registered or not reporting finances were likely oversights. But for others, skirting registration and not reporting financial contributions to the Secretary of State for years appeared to be a pattern, Koeske reported. The Secretary of State had suspended some of the charities for violations.

No matter if by oversight or intent, they weren’t registered. And, South Carolina law requires charities to be registered and to report their finances to the secretary of state if they’re going to solicit and receive taxpayer money. Lawmakers asking for earmark requests are a way around the charities asking directly for the money. Less questions are asked before the organizations get the money.

This shouldn’t have to be spelled out but it appears that it needs to be: Lawmakers need to follow state law.

They can’t be making it rain for unregistered charities simply because they’re lawmakers and know how to wink and nod their way to passing an earmark for a charity that can’t legally receive taxpayer money.

Instead of shady charities, state money can go toward real needs, such as lowering college tuition, making housing affordable and ensuring households have access to broadband internet.

Earmarks have a place in the state budgeting process. But lawmakers shouldn’t be able to get such money without more vetting.

South Carolina needs laws that require lawmakers to give detailed descriptions of what an earmark would fund. That documentation shouldn’t only be for other lawmakers and the governor to gander. The documentation must be available for the scrutiny of the public, the media and watchdog organizations.

Honest lawmakers should want such a rule. An earmark and the project it pays for should stand on its own merit, not the State House member who asks for it.

Earmarks cannot continue to be granted with such little oversight that unregistered charities can be awarded. Measures must be put in place to confirm the status of charities for which an earmark is requested. Anything less is being lazy and irresponsible with the public’s dollars.

If lawmakers keep operating without stricter rules on earmarks, it makes you wonder, do they really want to ensure taxpayer money only goes to legitimate organizations?

©2022 The State. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Special Projects