SC lawmakers call for impeachment inquiry after comptroller general’s $3.5B error

A panel at the South Carolina State House is in the midst of investigating how the office of the state’s top accountant made a $3.5 billion mistake.
Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 10:09 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2023 at 11:24 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A panel at the South Carolina State House is in the midst of investigating how the office of the state’s top accountant made a $3.5 billion mistake over the last decade.

But more than a dozen other lawmakers say they have already seen enough and now want to begin the process of removing Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom from elected office.

A resolution filed Thursday calls for the House Judiciary Committee to start an inquiry into the impeachment of Eckstrom “for serious misconduct in office including, but not limited to, dereliction of duty and breach of the public trust.”

So far it has more than a dozen sponsors, coming from both parties, including the House Republican Leader.

“This isn’t like a rounding error. This is a $3.5 billion mistake,” Rep. Gil Gatch, R – Dorchester and the resolution’s lead sponsor, told reporters. “You know, mistake’s not even really the right word because everybody makes mistakes. This is like an epic fail.”

Eckstrom said that error his office made over a 10-year period led it to report in the state’s official accounting document that South Carolina had $3.5 billion more in reserves than it actually had.

He said the state accounting system had been double-counting money transferred to colleges and universities, which use different accounting systems.

While this error does not affect the state budget, whose writers use a separate set of numbers, this accounting document is used by national rating agencies to determine South Carolina’s credit rating.

Eckstrom, a Republican, has held this job since 2003 and was just re-elected this past November for another term.

“I’m concerned about the timing,” Gatch said. “If you listen to his testimony, it seems it’s clear that he knew about the issue before the election, he kept it hidden, and until the election was over, before he brought it to us, before the brought it to the public. That’s very, very concerning.”

Eckstrom first made the admission publicly during a Senate budget hearing last month, and since then, a Senate Finance subcommittee has been investigating.

It has held three hearings so far, and its chair, Sen. Larry Grooms, says it will likely hold at least two more next week before presenting its findings and recommendations.

“Until the final report is made, I hate to speculate over what the committee’s going to do, but we’re doing our due diligence,” Grooms, R – Berkeley, told reporters Thursday. “We’re thoroughly investigating the problem and want to make sure that the people of South Carolina can have confidence in their government, have confidence in their elected officials to accurately report the state’s finances in a transparent manner.”

In a statement in response to the resolution, Eckstrom vowed to continue answering lawmakers’ questions and concerns.

“We will do what it takes to make sure they are as confident as we are about the work this office does for the taxpayers going forward. Our constituents deserve nothing less,” Eckstrom wrote.

The South Carolina Constitution gives the House of Representatives the ability to impeach statewide officials for serious crimes or misconduct in office.

If this resolution gets to the House floor and two-thirds of the chamber approves it, it would then be up to senators to decide if Eckstrom should be removed from office.