State’s lapse on Sanford emails inexcusable

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Unanswered in the controversy surrounding the mysterious emails sent to The State newspaper detailing SC Gov. Mark Sanford’s affair with an Argentine woman is why the paper didn’t approach the governor himself.

According to the paper, about six months ago The State received copies of e-mail messages from an anonymous source that were supposedly exchanged between Gov. Sanford’s personal e-mail address and a woman named Maria in Argentina.

“Reporters sent e-mails back to the originating e-mail address and to the woman, whose e-mail address was included, in an effort to verify the messages were genuine,” the paper wrote. “They never heard back. A second round of e-mails also failed to get a response, so the paper did not publish them until Wednesday, after Sanford admitted having an affair.”

Remarkably, there’s no mention of whether anyone at the paper approached Sanford regarding the emails. That’s hardly the kind of sleuthing one would expect from a newspaper that once prided itself on its state government coverage.

Now it seems unlikely Sanford would have come clean if The State had bothered to question him about the correspondence, but it’s hard to fathom why the paper didn’t at least make the effort to check the allegations with one of the two individuals who were directly involved.

No one expects The State to have published the emails without verification, but failing to follow up a tip on what’s become the biggest story in South Carolina politics in a long, long time is inexcusable.

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Why limiting executive pay is a bad idea

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Amid increasing the hue and cry from the Obama Administration for the need to regulate the pay of executives of all financial-services firms – and maybe even of all publicly traded corporations – comes a bit of reason.

In a piece highlighting the dangers of regulating executive pay, George Mason University economics professor Don Boudreaux makes a straightforward case why such action would be wrong:

Proponents of Obama’s proposal suggest that if government limits the pay that banks and brokerage houses offer their executives, these firms will have lower costs. These lower costs will mean better deals for customers, such as lower interest rates for borrowers and lower brokerage fees for ordinary citizens who buy and sell stocks. What can be the downside of such regulation?

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SC no stranger to political controversy

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Gov. Mark Sanford’s revelation of an affair with an Argentinian woman certainly doesn’t mark the first time a Palmetto State elected official has found himself in political hot water.

As WIS-TV reports, there have been others over the past couple hundred years whose situations rivaled and even surpassed Sanford’s in terms of notoriety.

Gov. James Henry Hammond, a high-society husband, father and businessman elected in 1842, saw his term mired in controversy as his brother-in-law, Wade Hampton II, accused him of inappropriate activities with the Hampton daughters and his slaves. Gov. Hammond would late separate from his wife but go on to serve in the US Senate.

In 1856 SC Sen. Preston Smith Brooks of South Carolina attacked Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner with a walking cane in the US Senate chambers. Beaten to the floor, the senator survived but Brooks was dead less than a year later of the croup.

In 1903 State newspaper editor NG Gonzales was gunned down by Lt. Gov. James Hammond Tillman in downtown Columbia. Lt. Gov. Tillman was later acquitted by a Lexington County jury.

In 1998 Gov. David Beasley held a press conference to try and quash rumors of an affair with a staffer, the wife a prominent South Carolina attorney.

And, of course, Strom Thurmond had his progeny issues, though they weren’t publicly disclosed until after his death in 2003.

Remembering patriot Caesar Rodney

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On this day 225 years ago, American Revolution hero Caesar Rodney died in Kent County, Delaware, at age 55.

Today, he’s best known for his 80-mile ride by horse through a thunderstorm to Philadelphia to break a deadlock among the Delaware delegation on the vote for American independence. 

Rodney is said to have dramatically arrived at Independence Hall in Philadelphia “in his boots and spurs” on July 2,1776,  just as the voting was beginning. His vote allowed Delaware to join eleven other states in voting in favor of the resolution of independence.

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Sanford’s message remains integral to SC

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One of the many unfortunate aspects regarding the revelation of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s affair with an Argentinian woman is that political opponents will take the opportunity to attack his vision of trying to enhance economic freedom in South Carolina.

Sanford has been at odds with many of the state’s key legislators on how improve South Carolina’s business environment almost from his first day in office.

From the outset he’s favored broad-based reforms such as eliminating the corporate income tax to increase development in the state while lawmakers have been more interested in picking and choosing which businesses and industries will get tax dollars, rather than putting their trust in the free market.

Recently, Sanford has been particularly critical of efforts by lawmakers to continue funding hydrogen research in the state, saying state government has no business trying to pick winners.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell and others disagree. In recent years, they’ve pumped millions of dollars into hydrogen research. That doesn’t include the $750,000 they set aside for hydrogen in this year’s budget, despite the fact they spent much of the session claiming South Carolina was facing one of its worst budget crunches in recent memory.

The numbers, however, appear to back up Sanford’s assertions that state government tends to have a poor record when it comes to directing economic development.

Last week, Speaker Harrell issued a press release that claimed 229 jobs had been created in hydrogen in South Carolina in recent years, adding that 65 percent of those had occurred over the past five years. That works out to fewer than 30 a year over the past half decade.

That’s from a state investment of $12.3 million, plus untold millions in local, county and federal tax dollars. Not exactly what one would call a rousing success, is it?

Sanford made the mistake of actively trying to change the good old boy system that doles out tax money to friends and allies, instead of seeking what’s best for the state as a whole. He understood that that mentality  is one of the reasons South Carolina remains an economic backwater.

The bottom line is this: The challenges we face in trying to improve South Carolina will remain long after the hubbub about Mark Sanford’s shortcomings as a spouse and leader have faded. The messenger may be flawed, but that doesn’t mean his message is without merit.

Stock dilution growing among SC firms

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What do regional financial services company South Financial Group, embattled South Carolina bank company First National Bancshares and struggling Columbia, SC, technology company Collexis Holdings have in common?

All have or are pondering diluting their common stock in an effort to raise money.

And they’re not the only ones. More than 165 companies nationwide raised a record $87 billion in U.S. secondary share sales this quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Coble to laid-off employees: in your face

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So, the city of Columbia is in such financial straits that it’s forced to lay off employees, but it’s still going ahead with plans to award a contract for construction of a $2.3 million pavilion connected to the EdVenture Children’s Museum.

“I believe it will be one of the most beautiful spots on the greenway,” Mayor Bob Coble tells The State newspaper. “It creates jobs and it adds to a synergy of attractions that are a major downtown economic engine. It’s our own local stimulus package.”

Mayor Coble has never met a soundbite he didn’t like, but let’s examine what he said:

  • “It creates jobs.” So did Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago, but that doesn’t mean it was a good idea. Simply spending money to create jobs rarely makes good economic sense. The city of Columbia has likely expended tens of millions of dollars or more in recent years in streetscaping improvements and similar projects that many have argued were unnecessary or simply wasteful. And now, with the economic downturn in full swing, it seems particularly foolish to plow ahead with non-essential work.
  • “It adds to a synergy of attractions that are a major downtown economic engine.” That’s a whole lot of economic development cliches packed into a single sentence, but one suspects that much of what’s in the area Coble is touting as a “downtown economic engine,” such as EdVenture, is being subsidized in one way or another.
  • “It’s our own local stimulus package.” And just like the federal stimulus package, somebody’s going to have to pick up the tab eventually.

But, come hell or high water, Columbia officials are going to proceed with planned building projects such as the pavilion, no matter how superfluous they are or how many employees’ jobs could have been saved if the projects had been put on hold until the city’s budget improved.

That’s the magic of government – logic and common sense need not apply.