Bring Mexican political ethics to South Carolina

Now the most reasonable response to this headline is “Are you nuts? Isn’t Mexican politics riddled with corruption? What could we possibly learn from them?

The answers to these three questions are — “no,” “yes” and “a lot.”

I suppose that there are some who would argue that the answer to the first question is “yes,” but I haven’t been locked up yet, so give me the benefit of the doubt on this one and let’s skip to the more important questions.


Yes, Mexican politics is shot through with corruption at most every level. The ethical history of politics in this country is not something that the League of Women Voters would want us to emulate but it has only been with the recent flood of drug money that politics has gone from shady to utterly corrupt.

phil1-21 Page 4A.inddHow bad is it? Really bad.

There is a popular saying that most folks take as an article of faith that says: ‘’He who doesn’t cheat does not get ahead.” (I’ve heard the same sentiment expressed around the Statehouse in Columbia.)

What has happened in Mexico is that the corruption in government has now spilled over into violence and dirty tricks that would make even George Wallace and Richard Nixon recoil. The whole political system is in the process of breaking down.

So, you might ask, what does this have to do with South Carolina and why would we possibly want to import any of this to our state?

Well, the answer is that we would certainly not want to import any of this political disease, but we might want to consider importing some of the political cure that is starting to bubble up from the grass roots.

Let me explain. In the midst of all this corruption, something happened — the people began to take matters into their own hands. Mexican law requires that if enough citizens sign on to a legislative petition, the National Congress has to take up the measure. The law requires 120,000 signatures and to date over 630,000 citizens have signed on to a measure that would make lawmakers report their personal finances.

The initiative is called ‘3 out of 3’ and it requires government officials to 1) reveal all of their financial assets, 2) report any conflicts of interest and 3) prove they are paying their taxes.

As would be expected in a system as adverse to ethics reform as is Mexico the legislation is stalled and going no place. (Sound familiar?)

But, as a result of this citizens’ initiative something has happened in Mexico that would go a long way toward providing ethics reform in South Carolina — some Mexican politicians have begun to voluntarily divulge their financial information even before any legislation is passed requiring them to do so.

Thus far, 560 public servants have disclosed this information including 13 percent of the national Senate and 21 percent of the Chamber of Deputies (like our House of Representatives), 12 state governors and one member of the President’s cabinet.

So now let’s get back to ethics reform in South Carolina. For the third year in a row, the legislature has refused to pass any meaningful ethics reform. (And even the measures they are considering are really ‘Swiss cheese reform’ — more holes than cheese.)

We have seen lots of self-righteous posturing and speeches by Governor Haley and some statehouse politicians about the need for ethics reform — they always blame someone else for the failure of reform efforts to pass.

So, I’d say to these S.C. politicians, follow the Mexican example and voluntarily disclose — 1) your income and assets — how much and from whom, 2) conflicts of interest — what deals are you and your family in, and 3) release your state and federal income taxes — for all the years you are in office.

By percentage, if our Legislature were as ethical as Mexico’s, then six S.C. Senators, 25 members of the House and one member of Gov. Haley’s cabinet would have disclosed this information.

The people of South Carolina should say to the Statehouse politicians: don’t talk about ethics reform — just do it.

The politicians talk the talk, but won’t walk the walk. There is a one word description for this — hypocrite.

A growing number of Mexican politicians have passed the test. To date, best I know, the current number of S.C. politicians who have voluntarily disclosed such complete information is zero.

Yes indeed, let’s bring Mexican political ethics to South Carolina.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the S.C. New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring change and reform. He can be reached at