Gov. Nikki Haley is back in campaign mode, trying to win over skeptics of her hybrid income-tax cut and roads-funding plan. But can she legally spend money raised for her successful re-election bid last year to push the first major initiative of her second term?
Haley’s campaign had $539,493 in campaign money left over on Jan. 1 after raising a record $8.4 million to win the Republican a second four-year term.
Three months after defeating Democrat Vincent Sheheen (again), “Nikki Haley for Governor” is paying for online and social media ads to promote her proposed swap of a 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax hike for a 29 percent income-tax cut.
To push that effort, Haley’s campaign website has undergone a makeover. Gone are her bio and campaign positions, replaced by summaries, Q&As and quotes from supporters on her roads-and-tax proposal.
After an election, state law says candidates can use any leftover campaign money “to defray ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection” with their duties in public office.
There’s the rub.
No one is quite sure of the meaning of “ordinary and necessary expenses.”
“The commission has never issued a formal opinion containing a definition of either term,” S.C. Ethics Commission director Herb Hayden said. “Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to offer a personal opinion on this matter.”
The Haley campaign took a pass on answering questions about the governor’s post-election ad blitz.
That blitz highlights the income-tax cut first. Second-billing goes to roads.
That leads some lawmakers to think Haley is more interested in getting attention from a proposed tax cut – that could drain billions in future state revenues, critics say – when South Carolinians care more about money to fix potholes and road cracks that are damaging their cars.
It also has fueled speculation (again) about Haley’s 2016 aspirations.
“What else could it be?” one lawmaker sighed to The Buzz.
The governor has denied repeatedly any interest in joining a possible Republican administration despite receiving attention from would-be GOP White House nominees, lavished because of the Palmetto State’s primary pole position in the South.
Maybe Haley’s campaign could buy some ads to bring home that point.
Come to our party, guv
Haley’s tax cut-and-roads ads aren’t aimed at the one group of folks who can turn her ideas into reality – the Republicans who make up a majority of the S.C. House and state Senate.
GOP House members want to avoid having two competing roads bills – one from the House and one from the governor. And they would like to hear Haley, their party leader, speak to them on what is becoming the session’s most divisive issue. (Ethics reform? That’s going nowhere in the state Senate.)
House Republicans have invited Haley to attend their caucus meeting Tuesday – a day before a House roads bill, under development for months, is set to be introduced.
Haley’s office said she is considering the invite but has not made a final decision.
However, some House members say Haley has declined that invitation. (All House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, would say is that Haley has an open invitation to speak to the caucus anytime.)
The governor certainly would face complaints that her tax-swap plan – merging a massive income-tax cut with a gas-tax hike, an idea some GOP lawmakers loathe – could doom getting more money for roads this year.
Haley also could hear complaints about alleged threats from her office against legislators who fail to back her proposal.
Governor, the RSVP is waiting.
Nearly a clean slate for S.C. State
The makeover of S.C. State University’s board of trustees should have been completed by July.
But it won’t.
Lawmakers have not re-elected S.C. trustees since 2013 in reaction to the school’s financial mess, which landed it on probation with accreditors.
S.C. State has received $18 million in emergency loans and funding after revelations that South Carolina’s only historically black public college had a $14 million deficit from years of borrowing to pay its bills.
The next round of board elections this year was supposed to compete the replacement of 12 of the 13 trustees chosen by the General Assembly. (Gov. Haley appoints one trustee.)
But lawmakers will fall one trustee short.
The path was cleared. Incumbents have stopped trying to win back their seats – including three whose terms expired this year: John Corbitt, Gail Joyner-Fleming and Tony Grant.
Grant, a Columbia businessman, said lawmakers suggested alumni not seek re-election. He and Corbitt are the only remaining S.C. State grads on the current board.
But there’s not total excitement about the task of joining the S.C. State board to rescue the 3,000-student school.
It took two elections in the past year to find a successor for Patricia Lott, a spot filled by Tammy Kelly of Sumter last week after Lott stayed on the trustee board for an extra eight months as she awaited a replacement.
This time, no candidates filed to assume Corbitt’s seat, representing the 4th congressional district.
That means Corbitt, the longest-serving member of the S.C. State board at 14 years, will remain a trustee – for now.
In all, five board seats are open at S.C. State, including a pair vacated by trustees who resigned.
• Erika Abraham, an Anderson bank manager, left less than a year into her term after not attending any meetings. She thought trustees met at night and could not make the daytime meetings, according to a report in The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat.• Former S.C. Republican Party chairman Katon Dawson resigned midterm after helping start the effort to get the school’s finances in order. But Dawson said he hopes to continue working with a panel established by Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, to help S.C. State through its crisis.
“The circumstances I found when entering the board have greatly changed and the paths to recovery are now in place,” Dawson wrote in his resignation letter. “It is with my most humble gratitude to have been able to participate in the university's current success.”
Buzz Bites• The University of South Carolina and U.S. Department of Justice officials shot down an online news site’s report last week that the federal agency pulled out of a 20-year, $106 million lease for the college’s former business school building over the issue of the Confederate flag that flies on the State House grounds. “No, the flag played no role,” Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said. “The reasons are budgetary.”
• Reports from the Garden State say the feds want to know about former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey chairman David Samson’s personal travel, including a direct Newark-to-Columbia United Airlines flight that was canceled soon after Samson left his government job last year. The family of a pal of Gov. Chris Christie has a house in Aiken, The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record reported last week. A quick Buzz flashback: Christie visited Aiken in 2013 where his photo was snapped at a local restaurant. At the time, Christie’s office said he was playing golf and visiting friends.