Panel finds ‘probable cause’ Chumley violated SC ethics laws

abeam@thestate.comNovember 27, 2013 

Bill Chumley

— INSIDE

The House Ethics Committee voted Tuesday to find “probable cause” that state Rep. Bill Chumley violated S.C. ethics laws when he used a state-owned plane to fly a conservative pundit to Columbia to testify before a House subcommittee.

The finding does not mean the Spartanburg Republican is guilty. But the committee – made up of five Democrats and five Republicans – found enough evidence that a violation might have occurred, according to committee chairman Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington.

In March, Chumley authorized $6,390 in taxpayer money to use the state plane to fly Walter Williams, a conservative radio host who occasionally fills in for Rush Limbaugh, to Columbia from Washington, D.C. Williams testified before Chumley’s House subcommittee about H.3101, a bill Chumley wrote that would try to stop the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act in South Carolina.

State law allows lawmakers to use the state plane for official state business but does not define what that means. The law does ban use of the plane for news conferences, bill signings and political functions.

Democrats accused Chumley of using the state plane for political purposes. But Chumley said it was official state business to have someone he said is an expert testify about legislation before a House subcommittee.

Chumley said Tuesday night he was not aware of the House Ethics Committee’s decision – “It would be nice if they would let me know,” he said – and he defended his use of the state plane, saying he followed the law.

“I feel like I did everything that I was supposed to do before I did it, and I think it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Bingham said the committee was investigating a complaint filed by Thomas A. Davies, an S.C. resident who lives in Woodruff. A “probable cause” finding is the first step in the investigative process. Chumley could request a hearing, or he could let the Ethics Committee reach a decision on its own. Bingham says the committee has no timetable on when it must decide what action, if any, to take against Chumley.

Chumley declined to comment on whether he would fight the charge.

“I’ll need to find out more details before I can answer any of those questions,” he said.

Chumley’s use of the plane was one of several recent incidents that prompted state senators to vote to sell the state’s planes. But House lawmakers did not agree, and the proposal died.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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