COLUMBIA — State Sen. Vincent Sheheen on Thursday called ethics complaints filed against him – and later dismissed – “desperate accusations” meant to distract voters from Gov. Nikki Haley’s own ethics record.
Democrat Sheheen said three ethics complaints were filed against him with the S.C. Ethics Commission by a paid worker of the S.C. Republican Party.
According to Sheheen’s campaign, the complaints raised questions about:
• Sheheen’s alleged failure to report air-travel expenses for a Kentucky campaign trip, when Sheheen actually drove himself in his own car
• A gas reimbursement for a volunteer
• An unreported in-kind contribution. Sheheen said that contribution was made in the current quarter and will be reported later this year, as required by state law.
The Ethics Commission dismissed the complaints at its meeting Wednesday, said Cathy Hazelwood, an Ethics Commission attorney.
The person who filed the complaints received two $500 payments from the S.C. GOP in June, according to the party’s expense records. S.C. GOP chairman Matt Moore the ethics complaints were filed by a party intern who was acting independently.
Sheheen criticized the complaints as a waste of taxpayers’ money and a “desperate” attempt to shift the public focus away from Haley’s own ethics issues. Haley has been “repeatedly investigated for unethical behavior,” the Camden Democrat said.
In 2012, Gov. Haley reimbursed the state nearly $10,000 after The Associated Press reported she used state aircraft for press conferences and bill signings, banned uses. That year, Haley’s re-election campaign also agreed to pay back thousands to the state for the use of a state-funded security detail in connection with the governor’s fundraising trips.
More recently, Haley’s campaign has been fined $3,500 by the Ethics Commission for not reporting the addresses of eight donors, the result of an ethics complaint against the Republican governor filed by a state Senate staffer who works for Sheheen. The governor’s office and Ethics Commission also have debated whether the governor should reimburse the state for some of her use of state-owned vehicles.
Outside S.C. Democratic Party’s headquarters Thursday, GOP chairman Moore called Sheheen’s comments the “height of hypocrisy,” accusing the Camden Democrat of voting to delay consideration of an ethics reform proposal that both Haley and Sheheen vocally supported.
In May, as the clock on the 2013 session was winding down, Sheheen voted against the Senate returning for a rare Friday session, instead of reconvening the following Tuesday, the normal starting day of the three-day legislative work week.
The following week, Sheheen was one of only three Democrats voting to move the ethics proposal to the top of the Senate calendar.
Rob Godfrey, Haley’s campaign spokesman, also criticized Sheheen, a trial lawyer, for “lectur(ing) us on wasteful spending after personally profiting from suing the state and calling for Obamacare expansion in South Carolina.”
Sheheen was unavailable to respond to Godfrey’s statement. But Kristin Sosanie, S.C. Democratic Party spokeswoman, said Sheheen’s law firm represents clients in a variety of contexts.
In 2010, Republicans also made a campaign issue out of Sheheen’s income from his law firm – part of which comes from representing clients on workers’ compensation claims before the state, according to income disclosures that Sheheen files with the S.C. Ethics Commission.
Godfrey also said Sheheen did not object when then-S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia attorney, “wasted countless hours and countless taxpayer dollars” representing John Rainey, a Republican operative, in an ethics complaint against Haley. Rainey accused Haley of illegally lobbying and using her position while a Lexington state legislator for personal gain.
A circuit court and state Supreme Court dismissed that case, saying ethics complaints against legislators should be investigated by legislative ethics committees, not the courts. The GOP-controlled House Ethics Committee twice cleared Haley of the charges.
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