by: Kathryn Carlisle
Gov. Nikki Haley stuck her foot in her mouth again last week, posting on her Twitter and Facebook pages referring to domestic violence prevention coalition and “special interests” in tandem.
In a series of tweets detailing funding vetoes, Haley mentioned The South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA) as an example of groups that receive “back door” funding from the state. SCCADVASA is a group of 23 domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and response agencies across the state of South Carolina. Haley’s veto would have eliminated $435,000 in funding for rape crisis centers in the state.
She tweeted: “veto of SC Coalition of Domestic Violence $453,680. Special interests made their way into the DHEC budget. This is not about the merit of their fights but the back door way of getting the money. It’s wrong and another loophole for legislators and special interests to use. Defeated 111-0.”
Yes, you did read that correctly, Haley’s tweet left out the word “against” in the name of the group. Make your own political judgment about the motivation behind that little slip-up, but the fact remains that she vetoed funding for the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) rape crisis and prevention programming.
The backlash has already begun, and rightfully so. Democrats and victims advocates are demanding an apology for implying that rape victims and assault prevention programs are a special interest group. The good news is that the South Carolina legislature overrode the governor’s veto. Yes, SCCADVASA will get their funding despite Governor Haley’s efforts.
Granted, she makes a wimpy attempt at divorcing the “merit” of SCCADVASA from her action to defund the group. I suppose she takes the all too ridiculous stance that all advocacy efforts should be charitably funded. News flash, Haley, that doesn’t work and asking the legislature for a budgetary line item is hardly a “backdoor way of getting the money.”
All that said, I think there is a greater problem with semantics going on here. Bear with me for a moment. At first it may seem that I am defending Nikki Haley (a stance I never thought I’d get anywhere near), but understand that I have a more nuanced argument that just happens to defend her terminology—not the implication of her internet musings.
A special interest is an individual, group or organization who actively seeks legislative support for a particular cause or issue. Any special interest has the marked goal of influencing public policy without actually seeking office. By definition, they are seeking to persuade governmental attitudes, funding streams, and legislation. Any advocacy group, be they liberal, conservative, bi-partisan or non-partisan, is a special interest. Veteran’s rights groups, Americans for Tax Reform, the NAACP, The National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood and probably hundreds of others, all fit the definition of a special interest group.
The problem isn’t that Haley called SCCADVASA a special interest. The SC Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault fits the definition without question. Haley used a perfectly legitimate term. Rather, the problem is that by using the phrase, she implied a negative connotation. We associate special interests with ridiculous waste of taxpayer money so Haley used the term to relegate any and all special interests to the veto column. Here we see the crux of the issue: a sweeping generalization that special interests are bad and should never receive public funding, no way, no how.
Beyond that, any suggestions that new agencies might be created to provide desperately needed public services are met with desperate cries of “BIG GOVERNMENT OVERREACH!” So, we have a government that can’t and won’t, provide necessary services and denies public funding to special interests which fill the void.
Don’t misunderstand, not all special interest groups deserve taxpayer dollars. Severely partisan groups and clearly divisive agendas are probably best left to the pocketbooks of their own supporters. However, some causes, say ending domestic violence and sexual assault, are universally beneficial. (If the general public disagrees with that statement, well…then I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.)
The problem is that we never move beyond the dismissive partisanship that Haley demonstrated in her overzealous veto frenzy and rarely have a dialogue about which causes our society might collectively agree on. I believe there are special interests that the majority of Americans would support, regardless of our varied political persuasions. If we refuse to have government agencies to address those issues, we by all means should be providing the special interests with funding to do just that.
So, Nikki Haley, I agree with you. The SC Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is a special interest. But that doesn’t mean that they should be automatically denied funding based on that classification alone. They, as well as many others, deserve careful consideration by the legislators and executives who grant them funding. I applaud the South Carolina legislature for acting Haley’s veto and hope that others will follow their example to help foster a precedent that will put aside partisan semantics in favor of a government that addresses the needs of its citizenry.
Kathryn Carlisle is a recent graduate of DePaul University. She is currently working in the exciting world of customer service, but is not dismissing the possibility of a one way ticket to somewhere exotic.