Her voice shaking slightly, Gov. Nikki Haley told House members Thursday who are looking into whether she illegally used her office for personal gain that the GOP activist who filed the complaint against her is a racist, sexist bigot who has tried everything in his power to hurt me and my family.
Haleys allegations of bias came after an executive testified that a Columbia engineering firm paid then-state Rep. Haley, a Lexington County Republican, $48,000 over almost two years as a passive consultant to scout out new business, but Haley turned up no new work.
In her surprise testimony, Haley repeated a story she has told before in her memoir and to the media that her accuser, Camden businessman and attorney John Rainey, is a bigot.
Haley said in her only meeting with him, while she was running for governor, Rainey was demanding and demeaning, and she told her staff she did not want any campaign contributions from him.
He wanted me to prove certain things so that if I took the oath, they wouldnt find out later that my family was related to terrorists, Haley said. Im still very offended by that.
Rainey declined to comment Thursday.
However, one of his attorneys said Thursdays hearing was a farce.
Chris Kenney said the committee called too few witnesses with direct knowledge of what happened, alluding to several witnesses who said they did not know specifics but then named others who did and could be called as witnesses.
The House Ethics Committee ought to be ashamed of itself, Kenney said. What we saw was a farce designed to paper over the facts.
Following a parade of witnesses Thursday who testified that Haley did nothing wrong while she was a state representative, Haley said she did not pressure lobbyists or their clients to give money to the Lexington Medical Center Foundation, where she was a $110,000-a-year fundraiser.
Haley said she also did not lobby on behalf of Lexington Medical as it fought to get state approval for a heart-surgery center, or for the Columbia-based Wilbur Smith Associates engineering firm, where she was paid $48,000 to win new work.
I just want the truth out there, Haley said. I know exactly what my frame of mind was. I know exactly what actions I took. I know the situations that were at hand.
I have done nothing wrong. Ive done nothing wrong.
Misinformed, misguided, mistaken
Haley is the first governor ever to appear before a South Carolina House Ethics Committee hearing. Her case went before her former colleagues, rather than the State Ethics Commission, because Raineys allegations stem from Haleys time representing Lexington County, from 2005-10, before she became governor.
The six-member committee, made up of five Republicans and a Democrat, could clear Haley of all charges when it begins its deliberations today. It also could find against her, reprimanding or fining her, or refer her case to the S.C. attorney general, who could investigate to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
In his opening statement, Haleys attorney, Butch Bowers, compared Rainey to the Chickenhawk character in the Looney Tunes cartoons, who, after being duped, keeps believing that a dog is a chicken.
Hes misinformed, misguided and mistaken, Bowers said. Just because he says it with conviction doesnt mean its true.
Rainey, who was a major fundraiser for President George W. Bush and chairman of the state Board of Economic Advisors under Gov. Mark Sanford, was subpoenaed by Haleys legal team but he was not called as a witness.
Rainey, who spent nearly 12 hours sequestered from the hearing in the Blatt Building on the State House grounds, declined comment about not being called and Haleys statements about him to the committee.
However, asked previously about Haleys allegations of bigotry, Rainey has said he did not recall making the remarks that she alleges. If he did, he added, it was in jest, trying to make the point that he didnt know Haley and, having supported Sanford who imploded wanted some assurances that Haley, who was charged with having several affairs during the GOP primary, was genuine.
A passive position
A month ago, the House committee dismissed the allegations against Haley without a formal hearing. However, after an uproar, the committee decided to reopen the case, hearing Thursday from Haleys former employers, corporate executives, lobbyists and a former state agency head who said then-Rep. Haley did not lobby them or pressure them for donations.
At Wilbur Smith, Haley was retained in business development in 2006 to use her contacts to find new private-sector work for the firm, said Robert Ferrell, vice president for the company.
Haley was told she was not hired to lobby on behalf of the firm, and she did not help Wilbur Smith settle a dispute with the S.C. Department of Agriculture over engineering work done at a proposed State Farmers Market site in Richland County, Ferrell said. (As part of that settlement, the firm returned $40,000 of a $4 million payment.)
It was a passive position, Ferrell said. Just keep your eyes and ears open if your hear something about private-sector business.
Haley did not win any new work in her 23-month consulting stint with the firm, Ferrell and Haley said.
Haley was let go in 2008 because the souring economy had dried up potential work, not over her performance, Ferrell said. She received $48,000 from the firm $5,500 more than previously reported, according to tax returns that Haley showed reporters during her 2010 campaign for governor.
Haley needed a job
Four officials from Lexington Medical Center said Haley did not cross the line into lobbying during her job raising money for its foundation.
Lexington Medical chief executive Mike Biediger said Haley, who was on the hospitals board at one point, approached him about a job because her parents clothing store, where she worked, was closing. She offered to raise money and plan events.
Despite having no formal experience or training in the field, Biediger said he hired Haley in a newly created job as a foundation fundraiser, citing her personality and interpersonal skills. He also was impressed with Haleys victory over longtime Lexington state Rep. Larry Koon in 2004, which, he said, showed her ability to raise money and influence people.
Biediger said Haleys pay, $110,000 a year, was set through a consultant but represented 75 percent of what she would have been paid if she could devote all of her time to the job. She was not getting full pay because the remainder of her time was taken up with her work in the Legislature, he said.
Lexington Medical chairman Dan Jones, a former lobbyist for Lexington Medical who now works for Time Warner Cable, said Haley approached him in 2008 about raising that cable companys $5,000 donation to the foundation. The company could not at the time, he said.
Jones, who also gave a personal donation to the foundation, said Haley never offered to swap political favors in exchange for contributions and he never felt pressure to give money. Ethically, thats just not the thing you do, he said.
Former state Rep. Billy Boan, a lobbyist for Lexington Medical for the past five years, said he did not coordinate lobbying efforts with Haley.
I would have stopped her
Haley was not asked to lobby for the hospital or help with legislation, Biediger said. She also was not asked to seek contributions from lobbyists or their clients, he said. Biediger said he never received complaints from lobbyists or their clients about Haley seeking donations, adding if he had, I would have stopped her from doing it.
Even though the hospital was in the midst of a battle for the heart-surgery center, It never occurred to me to talk about this issue with Haley, Biediger said.
However, Haley was part of conversations with Lexington County lawmakers about the hospitals efforts, he said. She had same interest as other people in (the) delegation.
As for emails that suggest Haley was working closely with Lexington Medical on winning the heart center, Biediger said, I see that as part of her being in the legislative delegation and had nothing to do with job responsibility.
Haley contacted members of the state Health Planning Committee, which helps draw up plans on hospital needs, to help Biediger get face-to-face appointments with them, the hospital chief executive said. But, in doing so, she was reaching out as a lawmaker who wanted a local hospital to win an important project, he said.
In his testimony, Earl Hunter, former commissioner of the state agency that could approve a heart center, recalled being contacted by state Sens. Jake Knotts and Nikki Setzler, who represent Lexington County, about the heart center, but not Haley.
BlueCross BlueShield general counsel Duncan McIntosh said the insurers donations to the Lexington Medical Foundation rose from $1,000 in 2007 to $10,000 in 2008, the same year when Haley became a fundraiser, to $20,000 and $30,000 over the following two years to make up for sending smaller contributions in previous years.
BlueCross and Lexington Medical had a rocky relationship over cost disputes, he said. McIntosh said he was not involved in the discussions about giving more money to Lexington but explained a comment on an email about a donation from then-chief executive Ed Sellers that said Dont ask as a reference to the tiff.
Another email BlueCross provided to the committee from one of its lobbyists, Larry Marchant, mentioned giving the top-level $20,000 for a foundation event.
Sellers and Marchant, who claimed to have had an affair with Haley that she has denied, were not subpoenaed.
BlueCross did not give donations to Lexington Medical to win favors from Haley and was not pressured to make the contributions, said McIntosh and BlueCross general counsel James DAlessio. The donations were made to build goodwill, they said.
BlueCross would have given the higher donations no matter who asked for them from Lexington Medical, McIntosh said. And DAlessio said the insurers contributions to the foundation have grown since Haley left Lexington Medical in 2010.
Asked by state Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland, a member of the ethics committee, whether other lawmakers asked for donations, McIntosh said he did not investigate that. But, he added, My assumption is that we do get such requests.