Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Haley attacks Rainey, hides behind secrecy rules

Despite his service as chairman of the state's Board of Economic Advisors, John Rainey is likely best known in South Carolina politics as the man who recruited Mark Sanford to run for governor in 2002. To put that decision in context, Sanford's reputation in 2002 was as a principled ultra-conservative -- even Libertarian -- Republican who was famous for limiting himself to three terms in Congress and sleeping in his Congressional office to save federal dollars.

As Sanford's mentor, Rainey cemented his reputation as a conservative godfather. So, say what one may about Rainey, but no sentient being would ever accuse him of being liberal, even progressive.

Yet Governor Nikki Haley has attacked Rainey this week in the most vicious political and personal terms to date. Through her mouthpiece, Haley called Rainey "an embittered old man with a political vendetta."

Haley is lashing out at Rainey in large part because of his principles on ethics -- principles that were, unfortunately for her, reinforced by Sanford when critics questioned his use of public funds during her term in office. At that time, Sanford waived his rights to confidentiality throughout the ethics investigation, ensuring that the media and the public would have access to findings.

Now that Haley is the focus of ethical questions -- questions posed by Rainey in the form of litigation -- her legislative critics have asked Haley to follow Sanford's lead and cooperate fully and openly.

But Haley has chosen a very different pair of strategies: First, stonewall and hide; second, attack Rainey.

Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday rebuffed House Democrats’ call for her to waive confidentiality in a possible ethics investigation, calling questions about work she did for a pair of her pre-gubernatorial employers a “waste of time.”

Through a spokesman, Haley said she would abandon confidentiality only if lawmakers want to change state law so that all past and future ethics complaints are public.

Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Harry Ott of Calhoun, said the first-term Republican governor who made increasing transparency a central plank in her 2010 campaign should “let some sunshine in.”

“Nobody is here to say that any laws have been broken, but the public has a right to know,” he said.

“It is time that we hold ourself to a higher standard.”

Democrats are pushing Haley to drop confidentiality after a circuit judge last week dismissed a complaint by GOP activist and former state Board of Economic Advisers Chairman John Rainey.

The complaint alleged that Haley used her state office during her time as a state representative from Lexington County to lobby in violation of state law while serving as a fundraiser for the Lexington Medical Center foundation.

Let's keep in mind that when she was hired by the Lexington Medical Center as a fundraiser, she had no experience as a corporate fundraiser and no background in the health care industry. Her only qualification for the job seems to have been that she occupied a seat in the state legislature.

The filing also accused the governor of failing to disclose her work for another pre-gubernatorial employer on state campaign disclosure forms.

The judge didn’t rule on the merits of Rainey’s complaint, instead deciding that under state law, the House Ethics Committee must handle ethics issues involving a current or former state House member.

Any investigation of Haley by the committee would have to be triggered by a formal complaint, which any South Carolinian can file.

But the public is kept in the dark throughout much of the process.

By law, committee members and anybody who’s filed a complaint cannot comment on any investigation or complaint or face penalties.

Rainey cited that law in declining to comment Tuesday on whether he’s filed a complaint with the committee.

The longtime committee chairman, state Rep. Roland Smith, R-Aiken, said Tuesday that the subject of any investigation can drop confidentiality, making the process “open.”

Democrats said Haley should follow in the footsteps of her one-time political mentor, former Gov. Mark Sanford, in waiving confidentiality in the event of a committee investigation, which would likely center on the charges presented in Rainey’s lawsuit.

A spokesman for Haley said Tuesday that Rainey is “an embittered man with a political vendetta.”

“He has already wasted the time of the courts,” Rob Godfrey said in a statement. “He can try to waste the time of the General Assembly. He will not waste any of the governor’s time.”

Godfrey said questions about the allegations lobbed by Rainey already have been answered and that the regular procedures should be followed if there is an ethics complaint.

This response fits the definition of a "fig leaf." Go back to the date that these questions were originally asked, and you'll find that Haley and her ilk dismissed the questions as baseless, just political theater. Now, when questions are raised, the response is that the questions are old and were addressed long ago. This is taught in Basic Political Obfuscation 101.

“We’re confident that the ethics committee will come to the same conclusion as every other entity that Mr. Rainey has shopped this nonsense to — that it is entirely baseless,” Godfrey said.

House Democrats unveiled a package of bills last week that included a measure to eliminate the state House and Senate ethics committees and turn investigations of previous and current lawmakers over to the State Ethics Commission.

Reporter Robert Kittle of WSPA added a bit more to the day's coverage, further illustration of the obfuscation strategy:

"If there is an ethics complaint about matters that took place years ago – and that have already been answered again and again – the regular procedures should be followed," Godfrey wrote in a news release Tuesday. "Regular procedures" mean the public won't know whether a complaint has been filed.

In other words, it's the same-old, same-old -- the very status quo that Haley campaigned against, when transparency was her favorite word.

The possibility of an ethics complaint stems from a lawsuit against the governor by John Rainey, a leading Republican fundraiser and former chairman of the Board of Economic Advisors under Gov. Mark Sanford. He filed the lawsuit in state Circuit Court, but Judge Casey Manning dismissed the suit last week, saying the matter was for the State Ethics Commission or legislative Ethics Committees to decide.

The suit alleges Haley illegally lobbied state lawmakers and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control while she was a member of the House and was working for Lexington Medical Center, which was trying to get state approval for a new open-heart surgery center.

The suit also claims she failed to disclose on her campaign filings that she also worked for Wilber Smith, an engineering firm with state contracts. Haley has denied any wrongdoing, and said previously that state law did not require her to report her work for Wilbur Smith.

Since the lawsuit was dismissed and the judge explained the proper venues for the complaints, it's expected that Rainey will file a complaint with either the State Election Commission or House Ethics Committee.

House Democrats on Tuesday afternoon called on the governor to waive confidentiality.

"Nobody is here today to say that any rules were broken, but we are here to say that the public has a right to know," said Rep. Harry Ott, D-St. Matthews, House Minority Leader. "We believe Gov. Haley, particularly after running on a platform of transparency in government, needs to be the transparent governor that she wants to be and say to the people of South Carolina, 'I have nothing to hide. I'm going to waive my confidentiality clause and let the public know what is or is not going on.'"

It has happened before. Then-governor Mark Sanford waived confidentiality when he faced ethics charges before the State Ethics Commission over his use of state airplanes and state travel money.

When asked by 7 On Your Side Tuesday morning whether she would waive confidentiality, Gov. Haley said she wouldn't talk about it unless there was a complaint. When told there was no way to know whether a complaint had been filed, she said, "Well, when there is one you can let me know."

This is laughable. Our state's chief potentate does a two-step around the media, inviting them to let her know if a confidential ethics investigation is initiated against her.

Why are ethics complaints confidential? Rep. J. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, says it's state law. Don't taxpayers have a right to know whether the elected officials being paid by their tax dollars have ethics complaints against them?

"I will not disagree with you, but we have to abide by the law and the law says that it's confidential," he says. "I can't even acknowledge if there is a complaint at any time or if there's not a complaint."

Godfrey, Haley's spokesman, says of the lawsuit and possible ethics complaint,

"John Rainey is an embittered man with a political vendetta. He has already wasted the time of the courts. He can try to waste the time of the General Assembly. He will not waste any of the governor’s time. If there is an ethics complaint about matters that took place years ago – and that have already been answered again and again – the regular procedures should be followed, and we’re confident that the ethics committee will come to the same conclusion as every other entity that Mr. Rainey has shopped this nonsense to – that it is entirely baseless."


As baseless as were Haley's qualifications for South Carolina's highest public office?

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