COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A judge has kept alive a lawsuit challenging South Carolina Republicans' argument that they don't have to give reporters records involving a political consultant who is charged in a Statehouse corruption investigation.
In a ruling issued late last week, Judge G. Thomas Cooper Jr. turned down a request by the state House Republican Caucus to dismiss a lawsuit by news outlets including The Associated Press. Media attorney Jay Bender said Tuesday he will likely now ask Cooper to declare the caucus a "public body" that must disclose information under FOIA.
The coalition wants the caucus declared a public body subject to the state's Freedom of Information Act, which would require it to grant the public access to its records and meetings. The lawsuit, which was filed in April, seeks Caucus records including payments to the firms of Richard Quinn and his son, former House Majority Leader Rick Quinn, who both face conspiracy charges.
Richard Quinn, a veteran Republican political consultant, is also charged with illegal lobbying. His son — who led the caucus from 1999 through 2004 — faces a misconduct charge. Both maintain their innocence.
The millions of dollars the Quinns collected and spent on behalf of clients have become central to an investigation that began with the 2014 prosecution of former state House Speaker Bobby Harrell. Both he and former House Majority Leader Jim Merrill pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and were sentenced to probation. Three other current and former Republican lawmakers also face charges in the case.
South Carolina Republicans have defended their decision not to give reporters records pertaining to the Quinns, arguing that the courts have no purview over their internal decision-making.
In his ruling, Cooper said the legislative chambers can adopt internal rules of procedure but cannot supersede the state's FOIA law with such a provision, only changing open-records policy by passing a new law. That echoed similar arguments Bender made in court last month.