Bill Herbkersman is trying to fool the public.
Here’s the hoodwink: The bill is touted as one to increase public disclosure on how nonprofits, such as the Hilton Head Island Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, spend public money.
It would not. It would make it harder for the public to access what it wants to know about how tax dollars are spent.
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The bill is baloney, and citizens need to stand up to it, demanding that it be killed in the House Ways and Means Committee. State Rep. Shannon Erickson of Beaufort serves on that committee, as does Herbkersman. Tell them to kill it.
An identical bill has been introduced in the state Senate, sponsored by Paul Campbell Jr., Glenn Reese, Greg Hembree, Kent Williams, Mike Gambrell, John Scott and Larry Grooms. It is assigned to the Finance Committee. State Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort serves on that committee. Tell him to kill it.
The bill comes as the Hilton Head Island Bluffton Chamber of Commerce fights in court to exempt itself from the state Freedom of Information Act, even though it received $1.8 million in local tax money in the 2017 fiscal year.
The bill would preempt that legal decision, which is now in the hands of the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Herbkersman said it is “patently false” to say there is a connection between his bill and the chamber of commerce fight.
So be it.
But what is patently true is that the bill would achieve a goal of the chamber of commerce, and change disclosure rules for scores of nonprofits across the state that get millions in tax money.
What is patently clear is that it would exempt the nonprofits getting public dollars from the Freedom of Information Act.
That would be an egregious step backward for the public.
Never, ever will transparency be increased by exempting institutions from any facet of the Freedom of Information Act. Period. End of story.
The rest of Herbkersman’s bill is a bunch of window-dressing, unrelated to its true effect.
The bill would require nonprofits to submit quarterly reports stating generally how the public money was spent. That is the alleged increase in transparency. It is not. It is less information than is available through the Freedom of Information Act. And it would require the public to get the information second-hand from the donor government, not the recipient spending the money. This is backward.
Here’s what the bill says:
“The expenditure reports must be made available by the awarding state agency or political subdivision in accordance with the requirements of (the Freedom of Information Act); however, the entity receiving the funds is not subject to such disclosure provisions.”
The emphasis is mine because that it what this bill is all about: enabling nonprofits to both get public money and be exempt, by law, from the Freedom of Information Act.
It would preempt the court’s adjudication of an important question: just when does a private agency become a public body, subject to the Freedom of Information Act? Although the law is clear that the Freedom of Information Act applies to “... any organization, corporation, or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds ...”
No, this bill is not about opening the door to public oversight of public dollars. It is about closing the public’s direct access to public information.
This move should die a quick death, not only for the harm it does to public oversight of public dollars, but for the affront it is to our intelligence. Elected leaders need to know that we cannot be fooled.
How to reach our lawmakers
▪ State Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton; Columbia address: 308C Blatt Bldg., Columbia, SC 29201; office phone: (803) 734-3063; home address: 896 May River Road, Bluffton, SC 29910-5833; home business phone: (843) 255-2264.
▪ State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort; Columbia address: 320C Blatt Bldg., Columbia, SC 29201; office phone: (803) 734-3261; home address: P.O. Box 1228, Beaufort, SC 29901-1228; home business phone: (843) 255-2260.
▪ State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort; Columbia address, 404 Gressette Bldg., Columbia SC 29201; office phone: (803) 212-6350; home address, P.O. Drawer 1107, Beaufort SC 29901-1107; home business phone: (843) 252-8583.