Most of the private-sector business officials who traveled with Gov. Nikki Haley on a trade mission to India last month also donated to her re-election campaign.
One of the business travelers was a member of Haley’s fundraising team.
The governor received $24,475 in contributions from five business leaders – or their employers – who took part in the 10-day mission, according to a review of state ethics data. The goal of the trip was to boost economic and education ties between the state and India, said the governor, the daughter of Indian immigrants.
Most of the business donors-travelers gave Haley’s successful re-election campaign the maximum $3,500 contribution allowed under state law. The private-sector businesses paid their own way on the trip, state officials said.
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Those on the trip with ties to contributions to Haley included: Martin Brown, founder of Colite International in Columbia; Tushar Chikhliker, a partner in the Nexsen Pruet law firm in Columbia; Deepal Eliatamby, president of Alliance Consulting Engineers in Columbia; and Greg Thompson, chief executive of Thompson Construction Group in Sumter.
Another contributor-traveler was Bhavna Vasudeva, co-chairwoman of CarolIndia, an effort at the University of South Carolina to “raise awareness of the growing importance of India.” Vasudeva has produced study-abroad, speaking and education programs at the university, according to a resume supplied by the governor’s office. She also has prepared meetings and activities for Indian ambassadors to the United States during their visits to South Carolina in 2011 and 2012.
Vasudeva, a native of New Delhi, was a member of Haley’s re-election fundraising team. In addition to the $3,475 that she contributed, her husband, Raj, gave Haley $1,000.
The mission included two other private-sector business officials – Rick Hughes, general manager of MacLean Power Systems in Fort Mill, and Rich Zinser, director of international sales for North American Rescue in Greer. Neither they nor their employers were listed as Haley campaign donors.
The state has brought developers from economic development alliances on previous foreign trade missions but had not included private-sector business officials, said Allison Skipper, a spokeswoman at the S.C. Department of Commerce, which organized the trip.
The Commerce Department decided to include private business leaders who work frequently on economic development projects to answer the questions of Indian companies, she said.
“These individuals could provide detailed information and answer the kinds of questions many Indian companies had been raising about doing business in our state (i.e. what is permitting like, what are electric rates like),” Skipper wrote in an email.
Companies applied to the agency’s international trade office to join the Indian trip, Skipper said. They filled out a questionnaire from an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce that tried to determine if U.S. exporters can be matched with foreign distributors.
“Depending on how many slots we can support per mission, we will select trade participants on a first-come, first-served basis,” Skipper wrote.
A government watchdog said the Haley administration did not break ethics law by including businesspeople-contributors on the Indian trip. But, he added, their inclusion did create the perception that campaign donors were being rewarded.
“The campaign contributions didn’t hurt (the businesses) and might have helped them get access to people in India that they might not have otherwise reached,” said John Crangle, state director for Common Cause. “It’s about giving them sweetheart treatment.”
Holy Land before the holidays
A dozen state lawmakers took their own foreign mission before the General Assembly gets underway next month.
The legislators traveled to Israel last week on an economic development mission, meeting with government and business leaders, said state Rep. Alan Clemmons, an Horry Republican who led the trip.
The delegation attended an investors summit while working with the South Carolina-Israel Collaboration, which is funded by businesses and colleges. The lawmakers also paid their respects at the West Jerusalem synagogue where four rabbis and a police officer were slain last month.
Clemmons, a supporter of Israel who has traveled to the country twice before, said legislators paid for the trip with campaign money.
Taking part in the trip were: House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland; Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown; Rep. Heather Crawford, R-Horry; Rep. MaryGail Douglas, D-Fairfield; Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort; Rep. Raye Felder, R-York; Rep. Mike Forrester, R-Spartanburg; Rep. Mike Gambrell, R-Anderson; Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown; Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville; and Rep. David Weeks, D-Sumter.
Haley would win big in ... Montana
With plenty of 2016 wannabes coming to South Carolina – we’ll see you Monday at the University of South Carolina’s winter commencement where the speaker will be former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – one pollster thinks the Palmetto State might have at least one presidential candidate in-house.
Gravis Marketing in Winter Springs, Fla., included Haley in presidential polls conducted last month.
Among Florida Republicans, Haley gets the same amount of support – 5 percent – as 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and just a little less than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – at 6 percent. Florida’s Bush tops all in his home state at 33 percent.
In Montana, Haley would beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by a margin of 45 percent to 37 percent, according to a Gravis poll of registered voters.
Next up will be Iowa, Gravis boss Doug Kaplan said.
Kaplan said he sees Haley and former tech chief executive Carly Fiorina as the leading female Republicans who could run in 2016.
“We consider people who are viable at the time,” he said.
It’s notable Haley won twice as an Indian-American woman in South Carolina, Kaplan said.
“Why would she not be a more viable candidate than (Florida U.S. Sen.) Marco Rubio?” he asked, rhetorically. “It’s a hypothetical.”
Very hypothetical, if you believe what Haley has said. The guv says she is not running.
Bakari’s second act?
Watch out South Carolina, another political reality television star is coming.
With former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel exiting “Southern Charm,” former state Rep. Bakari Sellers steps into “Love Thy Sister,” a WE tv show that features the family of Sellers’ girlfriend, Ellen Rucker Carter.
“Divorced from NBA star Vince Carter, Ellen has recently taken a step back from her chiropractic practice to spend more time with their daughter and enjoy life and family more,” the channel’s news release says. “She wants to start a new chapter in life and is anxious for an official commitment from her longtime boyfriend, Bakari Sellers, an attorney at law and well-known politician in South Carolina.”
The first episode, to be aired Jan. 8, promises a bit of fireworks. “Ellen’s trust issues get the better of her, and she accuses longtime boyfriend Bakari of cheating on her. The sisters try to rein Ellen in, but not before she almost destroys her relationship.”
The normally chatty Sellers is offering no details.
Buzz guesses the Bamberg Democrat, who lost a bid for lieutenant governor in November, doesn’t want to give away any spoilers.