A S.C. House of Representatives ethics panel wants W-2s and other employment documents from Gov. Nikki Haley to prove she was working for a hospitals charitable foundation, not the hospital itself, and support her defense that she broke no state ethics laws.
At issue is whether Haley, while a state representative from Lexington, illegally worked as a lobbyist for Lexington Medical Center, as it sought legislative approval to build an open-heart surgery center, and exploited her status as a lawmaker to land donations from lobbyists and businesses for the hospital.
Based on the documents Haley turns over, the House Ethics Committee could decide to close the case against Haley or move it to the full House of Representatives for possible further action.
Earlier this month, the House Ethics Committee reviewed the complaint against Haley and decided there was probable cause that an ethics violation occurred. But the panel then immediately ruled Haley had broken no laws and no further review was needed.
But some lawmakers, including state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, were not satisfied with the committees work. They contend state law requires the committee to conduct a thorough investigation not a superficial review once probable cause of a violation is established.
You cant do both, Smith told committee members Friday. The statue doesnt allow for you to find probable cause and then dismiss (the case).
Committee members fired back Friday, saying they had conducted a thorough investigation, meeting for a month in secret. The panel ruled probable cause existed in order to open its proceedings to the public and bring sunlight to the process, said state Rep. Phillip Lowe, R-Florence, a committee member.
Still, the committee unanimously voted Friday to require Haley to submit tax forms, including W-2s and supporting documents, to prove she was working for the Lexington Medical Center Foundation, not Lexington Medical Center. Haley has until noon Friday to submit the forms.
Haleys attorneys have argued the Lexington Republican worked for the hospitals charitable foundation from 2008 to 2010. That nonprofit, the lawyers contend, is separate from the hospital and does not employ lobbyists at the State House.
Since Haley wasnt working for the hospital, it was impossible for her to lobby for its heart center, then seeking legislative approval, her lawyers say. Instead, Haleys advocacy for the heart center, including emailing the hospitals president about her efforts to get lawmakers to support the proposal, was legal and common practice among lawmakers who routinely support local projects in their districts, the committee ruled earlier this month.
In her required state financial disclosures, however, Haley originally reported she was paid $110,000 a year by the hospital, not its foundation. The committee instructed Haley to correct those filings to show she was paid by the foundation, a change she since has made. But while the foundation was her employer, the hospital paid her salary as it does all foundation employees, according to a foundation official.
The Ethics Committee also reviewed charges that Haley improperly cast and abstained from votes that benefitted Wilbur Smith Associates, a Columbia-based engineering firm that paid the then-state representative $42,500 for unspecified consulting work. The panel found Haleys votes were appropriate.
Haleys attorney, Butch Bowers, said Friday that the continuing ethics review is nothing more than a political witch hunt by Haleys political opponents.
Those opponents include John Rainey, a GOP activist, who filed the ethics complaint and repeatedly has raised questions about Haleys ethics with the help of his attorney Dick Harpootlian, who also is S.C. Democratic Party chairman.
Haley has made charges against Rainey, too. In her new memoir, Haley claims Rainey requested verification that Haley, then a gubernatorial candidate, was not related to a terrorist.
Lets be very clear. This is a complaint from a bigot who called the governor a terrorist and the Democrat Party chairman that has been dismissed or discredited by every court or attorney or expert thats looked at it, Rob Godfrey, Haleys spokesman, said Friday. Its shameful.
Rainey tried to wave off that criticism Friday. Name-calling is a last desperate refuge of a scoundrel, he said.
Rainey said he doesnt remember making the terrorist comment, but if he did, it was done in an expansive jocular fashion, trying to get more information on Haley, who he did not know when Haley sought his support for her gubernatorial campaign.
Rainey has appealed the Ethics Committees decision from earlier this month to the full House, asking the full body to investigate his allegations against Haley. In his appeal, Rainey raises new questions about whether Haley illegally lobbied for Wilbur Smith and names witnesses the House should require to give testimony.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, has not ruled on whether a new House rule allows for Ethics Committee appeals to be heard. Harrell is awaiting the findings of the ethics panel first, his spokesman said Friday.
Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.