Commentary: Keeping Sanford's ethics report secret erodes public trust

In documents files last week with the Supreme Court, Gov. Mark Sanford argued that the only way to maintain or restore (take your pick) public confidence in the governmental ethics process is by keeping the work of ethics investigators secret.

He argued that the Legislature drew a giant black-out curtain around the Ethics Commission "as a necessary means to assemble relevant witnesses, to obtain proper documents, to avoid outside pressures from the General Assembly and the media, and to preempt politically-motivated leaks."

And he crowned it off with this: "The State Ethics Code was designed to restore the citizenry's trust in South Carolina's government in the wake of Operation Lost Trust. Its procedural safeguard of confidentiality over the agency's internal papers is meant to ensure fairness for respondents and independence for the Commission."

We're not sure whether he is right with his ultimate argument that all these rhetorical flourishes are intended to bolster: that the Legislature didn't really allow the targets of investigations to waive their confidentiality when it passed a law that ... allows the targets of investigations to waive their confidentiality. It could be that the Legislature was just trying to quell complaints by good-government advocates who argued that sunlight is the best disinfectant. It certainly wouldn't be the first time legislators went to extremes to make it look like they were doing something they really weren't doing.

But this we do know: Mr. Sanford's assertions about the value of secret government are outlandish. (The fact that he would have been the first to castigate anyone else who had said such a thing is irresistible to point out - although completely irrelevant to our point.)

To read the complete editorial, visit The State (Columbia, S.C.).