‘Hidden earmarks’ audit shows most organizations that receive money from SC budget don’t share how they spend it

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COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — According to a new audit from the state’s Office of Inspector General, most organizations that receive money from ‘hidden earmarks’ aren’t reporting how they’re spending the money.

‘Hidden earmarks’ are also known as roll-up appropriations.

They’re used by state lawmakers to help fund local pet projects or send money to local non-governmental organizations like non-profits, charities, churches, and private companies.

When working on the state budget, state lawmakers appropriate money to different state agencies for grants. Lawmakers usually use vague names like ‘Sports Marketing Grant’ or ‘Law Enforcement Grant’. Once the state budget is signed into law, agencies are then told by lawmakers who to write a check to.

Senator Dick Harpootlian (D-District 20) and the Governor’s Office requested a review of these earmarks by the Inspector General.

Sen. Harpootlian said, “We need to understand how we’re spending what we got and there’s no transparency. There’s no understanding of that.”

The Inspector General said this review doesn’t allege any wrongdoing by the agencies or employees but said the organizations receiving the money should be held accountable and follow the law.

Harpootlian said, “I don’t have a problem with the legislature appropriating money for local needs. I do have a problem when they’re done secretly.”

The Inspector General’s review of the last two state budgets found that 160 different organizations received a total of $43 million through ‘hidden earmarks’.

The audit shows that only 43 or 27% of the organizations shared how they used the money, the rest did not. Harpootlian said, “We don’t know how they spent the money. Did someone put it in their pockets? We don’t know.”

Under state law, any non-governmental organization that receives money must report which agency sent them money and how they are using it. That information is supposed to be share with the state budget writing committees.

The organizations do not get in trouble if they don’t comply. Senator Harpootlian said he has had conversations with other Senators about getting rid of the practice of hidden earmarks in the Senate.

He said he is unsure if reform will happen in 2021. “If I can convince the majority of my colleagues that a specific appropriation for Columbia or Richland County is necessary, so be it. It’s disclosed, we vote on it, we debate it. That just isn’t the way how it’s done now.”

The Inspector General’s review also found that 27 organizations received earmarks in both fiscal years.

You can read the full report below:

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