Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley has cast herself as the one candidate who would reject federal stimulus money and corporate bailouts.
But Haley, a state representative from Lexington, cast a vote last year to accept a disputed $700 million in federal money.
Haley said she cast the vote before it was clear that the state could reject the money - new stimulus legal wrinkles emerged almost daily last spring.
But Haley, in particular, has made an issue of U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett's change of heart over a federal bank rescue bill - Barrett voted no, before approving a second plan - and is now facing similar questions.
"I don't want any Washington bailout money of any kind," Haley said at a GOP debate last week, a point she repeated in an e-mail to supporters this week.
But in the first House budget vote on the stimulus last March, Haley voted yes on an amendment stating "It is the intent of the General Assembly to accept all available funds from the State Budget Stabilization Fund contained within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009," according to the House journal. That money is the $700 million that Gov. Mark Sanford challenged, and lost, in court after its inclusion in the current budget.
Despite the vote, Haley said she has been consistently against the federal money. After the vote, Haley said she spoke with the offices of Sanford and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint who assured her the state could reject the money. Haley later voted against final passage of the stimulus-boosted state budget.
"Everybody knows I was against it," she said. "I'm the only one that can consistently say that."
The other Republicans in the field all have panned the stimulus, but advocated accepting money S.C. taxpayers must repay. Barrett told Columbia City Council last year that S.C. should "step up to the plate." Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer penned an opinion piece that said S.C. would eat salad while other states eat steak if the money was rejected. Attorney General Henry McMaster has consistently said the state should have accepted the money and spent it wisely.
At last week's debate, Haley repeatedly criticized Barrett's vote, calling it a "terrible mistake." Barrett spokesman B.J. Boling said Haley was not fully truthful about her stimulus position.
"South Carolinians are fed up with politicians who say one thing and do another," Boling said. "Rep. Haley has deliberately misled the public about her vote to take federal stimulus money, and that's disappointing."
Robert Oldendick, who teaches politics at the University of South Carolina, said the issue might not affect the debate because voters are focused on other issues, such as the economy.
"We know from our surveys the most important issue is jobs," Oldendick said. "That's what everybody is talking about."
Oldendick said every candidate in the field is trying to point out his or her differences from the competition. Most legislators who have served for some time, he said, will cast a vote on both sides of an issue at some point.
"Certainly she's not completely consistent," Oldendick said. "She's not stretching the situation to characterize herself that way.
"Is it 100 percent? No, it's not."