COLUMBIA -- The full report of what happened in the state's huge data breach in 2012 will remain secret after a budget proposal to force its release failed in the Senate.
Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who broke a tie earlier during debate Thursday to keep the issue alive, ruled later that the proposal wasn't directly related to the spending of money and was therefore not germane.
The proposal by Democratic Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who is running for governor, had unleashed a largely partisan debate, with Democrats saying taxpayers deserved to know the full story of what happened and Republicans arguing the move was an election-year gambit that would hurt the ongoing investigation of the breach.
"If we didn't have a governor's race, we wouldn't even be addressing this," Sen. Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Senate.
Sheheen argued that taxpayers have a right to see what actually happened and that if the state's data security is still vulnerable to hacking, releasing the report could spur action to fix that.
"All if know is keeping things hidden for two years is not acceptable," he said. "All I know is you either believe in open, transparent government or you don't."
Calls for release of the report have come before, but this was the first time a proposal had been made in the Senate's budget process to release it.
Sheheen and others said the full report is available for lawmakers willing to sign a confidentiality agreement. But Sheheen said agreeing not to tell his constituents what he knows "is not acceptable."
A summary of the report has been publicly released. GOP senators said a probe of the breach by the U.S. Secret Service and the State Law Enforcement Division is ongoing.
SLED Chief Mark Keel came to the chamber after the vote failed to table the proposal.
Orangeburg Sen. Brad Hutto, a Democrat, last year told the Senate that he believed the hacker had been paid to keep the stolen data from being used. He told the Senate on Thursday that after that speech, Keel visited him and asked him to stop discussing the matter publicly. He said he had complied until Thursday.
Hutto again argued that if the hacker was paid, then multi-million-dollar contracts for credit monitoring and identity theft protection for affected taxpayers are unnecessary.
He said not a single citizen whose data was stolen has had that data misused.
"We're not protecting anybody from anything," he argued.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman said while he wasn't opposed to release of the report, he didn't want to give out information that criminals or would-be criminals could use to hack state computers.
Sheheen argued that whatever security system vulnerabilities in the state's computer networks that might have existed in 2012 should have been fixed by now.
"I'm not worried about that risk," he said.
But GOP leaders argued there was another risk, that the hacker would evade capture because of information in the report that might be disclosed.
Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson told the Senate that he talked to Keel, who told him the Secret Service doesn't want the report released because it "would be very detrimental to law enforcement at this juncture."
Martin said Sheheen's proposal and the debate that followed violated an understanding Senate leaders had that those running for statewide office wouldn't use the Senate floor for partisan politics.
"I would hope we would be a little bit bigger," he said.
That brought a sharp response from Sen. Darrell Jackson, a Columbia Democrat, who noted the time earlier this year the Senate spent debating a so-called Obamacare nullification bill.
"It is impossible to separate politics from politicians," he said. "You do know that, don't you?"
Martin said just the idea that the Senate would release the report "that we know ought not to be released" is "absurd."
Hutto asked Martin if there is no cover-up, "Then why don't we tell the people of South Carolina the truth?"
Replied Martin, "I think the people of South Carolina know what the truth is."
"That we paid a ransom to a hacker and we don't want them to know the details of it, that's the truth," Hutto countered.
Martin said that wasn't true.
"The law enforcement investigation is still ongoing. That is the honest truth," he said.
Hutto said that merely means "they haven't caught the guy."
Martin said he doesn't know if the data "has gotten loose or not, but it doesn't seem to have been used."
Haley spokesman Doug Mayer said the GOP senators' arguments were sufficient.
"The Secret Service, SLED and Senators (Harvey) Peeler and Martin said everything that needs to be said," Mayer said. "Senator Sheheen embarrassed himself, and should be more careful when trying to turn serious security issues into political games."
A hacker in September 2012 breached state Department of Revenue computers and stole data belonging to millions of taxpayers and businesses.
Gov. Nikki Haley publicly disclosed the hacking near the end of October of that year, a couple weeks after officials learned of the breach. Law enforcement officials said they asked her not to disclose any sooner so they could proceed further in their investigation. No arrests have been announced.
Since then, the agency has installed encryption on all its data as well as a multi-password system. Other agencies also have upgraded cyber security, many agencies networks are under constant monitoring and the state's taxpayers affected by the breach have been offered free identity theft and credit monitoring services.