Opinion: S.C. Freedom Caucus wastes money, blocks serious work with stunts


No one should be surprised that SLED determined that all the hysteria around S.C. voter registration forms sent to noncitizens was totally and completely unfounded.

Likewise, we shouldn't be surprised that members of the S.C. House's self-styled "Freedom Caucus" responded by attempting to move the goalposts - pretending they had asked for something altogether different, which the real Republicans running state government still hadn't responded to.

That's to be expected from people who are as unserious as the faction's 17 members who claim to be more conservative than the Republicans but in fact are simply unwilling to work to accomplish anything. Although the caucus does sometimes champion legitimate causes - broken clocks, blind hogs and all that - its two-year history makes it clear that its primary accomplishment is to manufacture outrage on social media, where there's often no one around to police its claims.

And if you're not someone who follows the caucus or anyone else on social media, good for you; we'd all be better off if we were more like you. But know that a large number of people not only follow political extremists on social media; that's the only place they get any "news." That's where they decide how to vote. That's also where they get so enraged that some of them call public officials and threaten them. This is, unfortunately, a cancer we dare not ignore.

The result of the Freedom Caucus' tactics is that the only thing the caucus accomplishes is to stop our elected officials from doing the work the voters elected them to do; well, that and wasting the time of SLED and other state agencies that have real problems to deal with.

As The Post and Courier's Macon Atkinson reports, SLED's drop-everything, do-it-now-because-the-governor-said-to investigation turned up no merit to allegations that the state Medicaid agency committed voter fraud by encouraging refugees to vote. Rather, the probe determined, the Department of Health and Human Services was required by federal law to send a form about voter registration to the refugee family - as it does to just about everybody applying for government assistance. And the registration form makes it clear on the very first line that noncitizens must not fill it out.

But, but, but, the caucuseers sputtered in response in their social media posts: This proves that state agencies are sending out voter registration forms to noncitizens.

Well, duh. We've known that from the very start.

Although a few similarly unserious people on social media suggested the caucus' original claim was manufactured, no serious people have ever disputed that the forms were sent. Yes, the Medicaid spokesman told anyone who would ask (a group that did not include caucus members), the state sends out these "declination forms" all the time. We'd love to not send them out, he said, but federal law requires us to.

To be clear: The only reason Gov. Henry McMaster ordered SLED to investigate was because the caucus ignited a viral firestorm over its trumped-up charges of voter fraud, accusing his Cabinet agency of violating state law and illegally registering noncitizens and endangering the integrity of our elections. Well, that along with the fact, unmentioned in the governor's letter to Caucus Chairman Rep. Adam Morgan, that the online outrage sparked by the wannabe congressman led to both implicit and explicit threats against employees of the State Election Commission.

But instead of skulking away with their tails between their legs as they should have after SLED so clearly exposed the fraud they tried to perpetrate on the public, caucus members doubled down.

Mr. Morgan told Ms. Atkinson he still wanted "further investigation" in order to "see why the agency did it and what they're going to do to make sure that they stop sending these forms to noncitizens."

Seriously: SLED just explained that federal law requires Health and Human Services and other social services agencies to distribute voter registration forms whenever someone applies for services or submits a change of address form or contacts the agencies in any other way.

What part of "because federal law requires it" does he not understand? What part of "the governor and the Legislature are powerless to nullify federal law" does he not understand? For that matter, what part of "South Carolina launched and lost a civil war over that whole idea about the limits on the federal government" do he and his fellow travelers not understand?

Is the federal requirement excessive? Yes, and if Mr. Morgan wants to complain that federal law shouldn't require state officials to send voter registration forms to noncitizens - or to anyone for that matter - then he absolutely should do that. It would be perfectly legitimate for him to demand to know why U.S. Rep. William Timmons hasn't already put a stop to such nonsense. And if he manages to get himself elected to the Congress, he is perfectly free to try to change the 1993 law.

But to the extent that there ever was a legitimate question for state officials, it has already been answered.

This editorial was originally published by The Post and Courier on May 23.