Counties still paying lawmakers for ‘phantom’ delegation offices
By RICK BRUNDRETT
Last year, S.C. Sen. Kent Williams of Marion County reported receiving a collective $17,060 in legislative delegation payments from neighboring Dillon and Florence counties, parts of which are in his Senate district.
Another longtime lawmaker, Rep. Jackie Hayes of Dillon County, received $12,500 in 2020 – the same amount paid to Williams by Dillon County, records show.
For years, Williams and Hayes have been among a group of lawmakers getting payments from counties that don’t provide legislative delegation offices.
A longstanding state law requires counties to fully fund legislative delegation offices – the amount determined by the Senate and House members making up that county’s delegation. On top of that, an annually renewed state budget proviso mandates a reduction in state aid to counties if they don’t fund delegation offices.
But neither the law nor the proviso specifically authorizes counties to make payments to lawmakers in place of delegation offices, though it’s routinely done by some counties. And there’s no standard formula for determining payment amounts or state law requiring that lawmakers keep records of how they spend the money.
Yet county funds likely will continue flowing to legislators.
In a sampling of state income-disclosure reports filed this year with the State Ethics Commission, The Nerve found that 17 lawmakers reported receiving a total of $104,118 in delegation payments in 2020 from seven counties – Berkeley, Clarendon, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence and Sumter.
In addition to the county payments, Williams, who reported making $63,646 last year as Marion County’s deputy administrator, received a total of $7,500 in delegation payments from the cities of Marion and Mullins located in his home county – even though that county provides a delegation office.
The Nerve in 2019 first revealed Williams’ multiple delegation payments. Williams, who is the Marion County delegation chairman, didn’t return a phone message Wednesday from The Nerve left at the delegation office.
Hayes, who is the Dillon School District 4 operations director, reported making $102,018 last year as the athletic director and head football coach, according to his income-disclosure report, known as a statement of economic interests (SEI). He didn’t respond Wednesday to a written request for comment about his delegation payments.
Following are the seven lawmakers in The Nerve’s sampling of SEIs who received the highest total amounts of delegation payments in 2020:
- Sen. Kent Williams, D-Marion: $24,560
- Sen. Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon: $15,000
- Rep. Jackie Hayes, D-Dillon: $12,500
- Rep. David Weeks, D-Sumter: $9,300
- Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee: $9,166
- Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter: $9,166
- Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee: $5,552
Johnson reported receiving $7,000 from his home county of Clarendon and $8,000 from Sumter County, part of which is in his Senate district. Johnson, Weeks, Smith, McElveen and Reps. Wendy Brawley, D-Richland, and Will Wheeler, D-Lee, received a total of $38,133 last year from Sumter County – the highest total among the seven counties in The Nerve’s review.
Johnson, who is the Clarendon County delegation chairman, didn’t respond Wednesday to a phone message from The Nerve seeking comment. His daughter, Rep. Kimberly Johnson, D-Clarendon, reported receiving $3,150 in 2020 from Clarendon County. The Nerve previously reported about Sen. Johnson’s influence over Clarendon County school boards.
In Darlington County, Republican House speaker Jay Lucas reported receiving $1,620 in delegation payments last year, while Rep. Robert Williams, D-Darlington, received $2,880 from the county plus another $2,000 from Florence County, according to his SEI.
Legislative delegations exercise considerable authority in their home counties, as The Nerve has repeatedly pointed out. Lawmakers had even more power over county governments until the passage of Act 283 of 1975, known as the “Home Rule Act,” though they didn’t give up their control entirely.
The 1975 law requires that county councils provide “office space and appropriations for the operation of the county legislative delegation office including compensation for staff personnel and necessary office supplies and equipment.” It also allows legislators representing a county to dictate how much their county has to budget annually for their delegation office, and to control the hiring and firing of office staff.
Under an annually renewed state budget proviso, lawmakers must reduce state aid to counties by any unfunded amounts for county delegation offices and have those funds “forwarded” to the delegations. They also must cut a county’s remaining state aid by 25% of the shortfall amount to be used for the delegation’s “administrative costs.”
But there’s no language in the proviso or Home Rule Act specifically authorizing payments to legislators by counties that don’t provide delegation offices.
Nerve intern Tyler Fedor contributed to this story. Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.
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