State ethics agency fines SC governor

abeam@thestate.com, ashain@thestate.comJuly 16, 2013 

SC Guard-Haley


The State Ethics Commission has fined Republican Gov. Nikki Haley $3,500 and issued her a “public warning” for not reporting the addresses of eight donors during her 2010 campaign for governor.

The fine resolves a two-year-old ethics complaint filed by Bridgett Tripp, a former S.C. Democratic Party staff member who now works for state Sens. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, Haley’s chief Democratic rival, and Creighton Coleman, D-Fairfield.

The commission issued its order Monday after two years of secret negotiations with Haley and her attorneys. The commission had planned a public hearing on the complaint last July, but canceled it after Haley “indicated to the commission her desire to resolve this matter without the burden of a hearing.”

“For over two years, we’ve had secret negotiations between the wrongdoer and the public’s watchdog on ethics,” said Chris Kenney, an attorney with former state Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian’s law firm, which represented Tripp in the case. “It begs the question: What the hell are they doing over there?

In the order resolving the case, commission chairman Phillip Florence Jr. said the commission and Haley wanted to “avoid a lengthy and costly hearing into the allegations.”

“The commission has historically resolved matters similarly by consent orders, and in this regard, the commission is agreeable,” Florence wrote.

State law forbids candidates from depositing any contribution unless they have the name and address of the contributor, a requirement intended to prevent fraudulent contributions. If candidates cannot verify that information within seven days of receiving a contribution, they must send the money to the Children’s Trust Fund.

Tripp accused Haley of misreporting $1.3 million in contributions by failing to disclose the addresses for 45 contributors and the occupations of 2,354 contributors between April 2010 and January 2011.

Haley’s campaign eventually “obtained most, but not all, of the information required,” the Ethics Commission said.

The commission said Haley did not include the address of a contributor who gave $200 on Sept. 7, 2010. The commission also found an additional seven contributions where Haley did have addresses but could not prove she had them within seven days of the donations, as state law requires.

The contributions totaled $4,176.78, “less than 1 percent of the $3,198,614.57 in total contributions received during the same time period,” the Ethics Commission’s Florence wrote in the order. Haley said she will send the $4,176.78 in contributions to the Children’s Trust Fund.

“The 2010 campaign made its best effort to report all the required information from the more than 7,000 donors who contributed,” said Tim Pearson, Haley’s campaign advisor. “But the requirement is to report 100 percent and, as such, the Ethics Commission has elected to issue the campaign a public warning.”

The commission said Haley “provided the commission with evidence demonstrating the substantial efforts that her campaign undertook to compile the requisite information for contributors.” Haley promised the commission she would not deposit future contributions unless she has all of the information required by law.

Tripp declined comment on Tuesday, referring questions to Harpootlian.

“The Ethics Commission ought to be ashamed,” Harpootlian said. “Nikki Haley has gotten away with another one.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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