Should Chumley pay the state back? Take our survey at the end of this story
State Rep. Bill Chumley, R-Spartanburg, said Thursday he would not pay back the $6,390 in taxpayer spending he approved to fly a conservative pundit to Columbia on Wednesday to testify in favor of a bill opposing Obamacare.
“I’m glad we did it. I’m very proud,” said state Rep. Bill Chumley, R-Spartanburg. “We stepped on (Democrats’) toes (Wednesday), and they are mad about it. That’s what this is about. It’s not about the airplane.”
But legislative Democrats said they plan to propose an amendment to the state’s budget that would force Chumley to pay back the money.
“This is a great example of fraud, waste and abuse,” said state Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia. “I’m going to make sure he pays that back. Chumley has to pay for that.”
Chumley approved using a state plane to fly Walter Williams to Columbia from a Washington, D.C., suburb to testify before a House Judiciary subcommittee about a bill that officially would state South Carolina’s opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act. The proposal also would prevent state employees from helping federal employees implement the law.
Some Republicans applaud the bill, saying it resists a law – Obamacare – that they view as unconstitutional despite a Supreme Court ruling that the law is legal. Democrats say the bill is a waste of time because it attempts to nullify federal law.
Democrats also are upset another person who testified against the Affordable Care Act, attorney Kent Masterson Brown, apparently was paid $7,500 for his testimony.
Chumley said Brown was not paid with public money. Instead, he said, a group of citizens “passed the hat” to pay for Brown’s travel expenses from Kentucky. Swain Sheppard, an officer with GPS Conservatives for Action, said audience members took a collection before the meeting to help pay for Brown’s expenses. He did not know how much was raised or who organized the collection.
Democrat Smith said it was fine for private citizens to use private money to pay for someone to testify before a subcommittee – but only if that person is registered as a lobbyist. Neither Brown nor Williams is registered as a lobbyist with the State Ethics Commission.
“We should know who is paying them ... and who is hiring them to effect the outcome of our decisions,” Smith said. “That’s where the public interest comes from.”
State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, wrote the House Ethics Commission on Thursday, requesting an opinion on both the appropriateness of using a state plane to transport Williams and paying Brown to testify.
Chumley said he brought Williams in to testify because he wanted to convince his fellow committee members to advance the anti-Obamacare bill to the full House Judiciary Committee.
“When you are out here working to protect the citizens of the state, you don’t just go halfway and say, ‘I hope this works.’ You use the resources you have,” Chumley said. “This airplane is a tool that the taxpayers pay for, and I was able to get a very effective witness here on behalf of the taxpayers.”
Read Rep. Gilda Cobb Hunter’s letter to the State Ethics Commission below: