Lawmaker: Re-examine Haley ethics

gnsmith@thestate.com May 16, 2012 

A Columbia lawmaker wants a legislative committee to take a second look into whether Gov. Nikki Haley illegally lobbied and broke other ethics laws while she was a Lexington state representative.

State Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, filed a resolution Tuesday asking the House Ethics Committee to look again into Haley’s activities while she was a House member, working for a hospital foundation and consulting for an engineering firm.

Smith said his resolution is not about targeting Haley, a Republican, but about restoring public confidence in the way lawmakers’ activities are investigated. “I would think the governor would feel better in her vindication after a full investigation.”

But Haley, cleared by the committee of ethics charges earlier this month, said Smith’s proposal is just more political foolishness.

“This is wasting taxpayers’ dollars,” Haley said. “This is wasting my time.”

At a May 2 meeting, House Ethics Committee members voted unanimously that there was probable cause of wrongdoing by Haley and a review was warranted. However, the committee’s members — who had conducted a secret month-long review of the allegations, including gathering responses from Haley — immediately voted 5-1 that no further investigation was needed and dismissed the case, saying Haley had broken no laws.

Haley’s attorneys argued her activities were typical of legislators.

“... Gov. Haley’s business activities and conduct are commonplace in the Legislature and were always consistent with the law,” wrote Haley’s attorney, Swati Patel, in a response to the complaint. To find otherwise, Patel wrote, would “impugn the integrity” of many lawmakers and corporate partners.

That response has outraged some House Democrats, who say they are not engaged in any of the activities that Haley claims are commonplace.

Those activities include asking lobbyists to make charitable donations to an employer — in Haley’s case, a nonprofit hospital foundation that she worked for.

“I want the opportunity to respond and let the public know that’s not true, that’s not commonplace. I wholeheartedly reject that,” said House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun.

The House Ethics Committee is expected to take up Smith’s request on Friday.

Also pending is a request that the full House of Representatives consider the charges against Haley, made by Republican activist John Rainey. Rainey, who filed the Ethics Committee complaint, has asked that the full House look into the allegations, arguing the House Ethics Committee didn’t conduct a thorough review.

Haley called Rainey’s charges a “political vendetta that has gone on too long.”

Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.

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