The House Ethics Committee voted Tuesday to find "probable cause" that state Rep. Bill Chumley violated S.C. ethics laws when he used the state plane to fly a conservative pundit to Columbia to testify before a House subcommittee.
Chumley, R-Spartanburg, authorized $6,390 in taxpayer spending to fly Walter Williams, a conservative radio host who sometimes fills in for Rush Limbaugh, to Columbia from Washington, D.C., to testify about H.3101 -- a bill that would try to stop South Carolina from implementing the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.
State law allows public officials 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 said it was official state business to have an expert testify about legislation before a House subcommittee.
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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.
Chumley 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.
House Ethics Committee chairman Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, said the committee was investigating a complaint filed by Thomas A. Davies of Woodruff. A "probable cause" finding is the first step in the investigative process. The complaint is now public, and the committee could hold a hearing.
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.