Live 5 Investigates: Hundreds of politicians not paying fines to SC Ethics Commission
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Hundreds of people who run for political office to represent you owe millions of dollars in unpaid ethics fines to the state of South Carolina.
And many of the people who refuse to pay up are from the Lowcountry.
Their names are on a debtors list compiled by the Ethics Commission.
Everyone on it owes money to the commission for unpaid fines.
The agency says all violated state ethics laws.
Many failed to file their statements of economic interest or quarterly campaign disclosures on time.
The fines increase as they go unpaid.
State law requires the filing so the public knows who's paying politicians and where the contributions are going.
"We need to hold government officials, public employees and public members accountable for their actions," said Ethics Commission Executive Director Meghan Walker. "Every required filer who failed to to file is notified in writing via letter and there are followup phone calls that are made."
The debtors list is 28 pages long.
We looked through it and found some interesting numbers.
The lowest unpaid fine is $100 owed by many on the list.
The highest unpaid fine is more than $213,000 owed by a candidate for a school board seat in Richland County.
There are more than two dozen people or organizations in the Lowcountry that owe money to the ethics commission.
The highest unpaid fine from our area is more than $151,000 owed by Louin Poston who ran for a City of North Charleston council seat back in 2004.
Poston apparently no longer lives in the Charleston area.
Walker says the ethics commission uses police officers and records from the Department of Motor Vehicles to try to locate debtors.
They also work with the Department of Revenue to garnish tax refunds.
"I'm not going to speculate on why people aren't paying or if they think that they can't be touched or for another number of reasons," Walker said.
The second highest unpaid fine in the Lowcountry is the more than $61,000 owed by Charleston County District 20 Constituent School Board chairman Tony Lewis.
We caught up with Lewis at a recent school board meeting.
Lewis says he wasn't aware he had a deadline to file his paperwork until months after he originally ran for office.
Lewis says he's paying the money back in small portions and some of it has been paid with his tax refunds that were garnished.
"Oh yes, I don't have any problem with that. I didn't misuse no money, just didn't turn in the paperwork in time. That's all so I don't have a problem with that and don't have a problem being held accountable," Lewis said.
Charleston County school board member Reverend Chris Collins owes more than $24,000 in unpaid fines.
Collins says he was fined for filing his campaign disclosure report late.
"It's unreasonable to charge somebody $25,000 for a report, ethics report that involves no money, nothing taken, no crime, no crime, no kind of theft, just a hefty penalty on somebody serving kids, making $25 a meeting twice a month," Collins said. "I think it's ridiculous but I'll pay it anyway."
Walker says the Ethics Commission depends on the money from the fines to run the agency.
The ethics commission gets $1.1 million a year from the legislature.
More than $2.6 million in unpaid fines is owed to the agency.
Walker says they use the money collected from the fines to operate.
"That's a number that can be used to save taxpayers money because we are actually using the fine amount to take care of some of the costs to run the Ethics Commission," Walker said.
Based on the length of the debtors list it appears it's going to be a never ending battle for the commission to collect the unpaid cash.
Copyright 2018 WCSC. All rights reserved.