Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Haley's cleared after threatening legislators

Corey Hutchens of Columbia's Free Times fills us in:

South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s defense against an ethics probe into alleged improper behavior as a lawmaker could be summed up succinctly: Clear me or I’ll throw you all under the bus.

According to a copy of Haley’s defense obtained by Free Times, the governor’s lawyer wrote on March 30 to the chairman of the House Ethics Committee that was investigating her that Haley’s “business activities and conduct are commonplace in the Legislature.”

The lawyer also wrote, “To find otherwise would not only impugn the integrity of many other members of the General Assembly, but also that of many of South Carolina's best corporate partners: BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, Michelin, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and several others.”

Haley has been under investigation by the secretive legislative ethics panel for a month. Yesterday, the House voted to allow ethics inquiries to become public if the panel finds probable cause for an investigation.

The panel investigated whether Gov. Nikki Haley broke any laws as a House member either by lobbying a state agency on behalf of her employer Lexington Medical Center or by doing secret consulting work for Wilbur Smith and failing to properly abstain from legislation benefiting the engineering firm. Both occurred during the time she represented Lexington County as a Republican in the S.C. House prior to becoming governor in 2010.

Longtime Republican fundraiser John Rainey filed the complaint.

Members of the committee voted 5-1 today to clear Haley of wrongdoing. The lone holdout was the only Democrat serving on the six-member panel.

The committee essentially took Haley’s attorneys and an attorney for the Lexington Medical Center at their word, said House Ethics Committee Chairman Ronald Smith, an Aiken Republican, during an interview with Free Times.

“Were they pleased with everything? No. Did they find cause to proceed further for example to the attorney general’s office … or law enforcement? The committee didn’t find that.”

Smith said the committee didn't do much in the form of an independent investigation into the claims.

"Do we have an investigator on our staff who can go out there and do an investigation like the State Ethics [Commission]? No," he said. "We have one full-time employee."

The State newspaper is reporting the same outcome, but its report includes none of the details of Haley's defense. It offers an anemic quote from Ethics Committee chair Roland Smith, and an explanation from the dissenter, Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk:

"We found no evidence that she lobbied," said Rep. Roland Smith, R-Aiken and chairman of the committee.

Rep. Laurie Funderburk, D-Kershaw, said a hearing is needed to further dig into the issue, but she was overruled. She cast the sole dissenting vote against dismissing the complaint.

"I was not comfortable dismissing without more facts," Funderburk said. "A hearing would have determined whether there was any wrongdoing."

Score one more against transparency and due process.

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