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USC can give Haley’s office season football tickets

Gov. Nikki Haley (right) gives the Order of The Palmetto to University of South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley at a 2013 football game at Williams-Brice Stadium. They are joined by Athletic Director Ray Tanner.
Gov. Nikki Haley (right) gives the Order of The Palmetto to University of South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley at a 2013 football game at Williams-Brice Stadium. They are joined by Athletic Director Ray Tanner. kkfoster@thestate.com

The University of South Carolina is not violating state ethics law by giving Gov. Nikki Haley’s office football tickets and a suite, the state Ethics Commission said in an opinion Wednesday.

The university and governor’s office requested the opinion after questions were raised about whether the practice was legal.

State law generally prohibits public employees, cabinet officers or lawmakers from accepting meals, entertainment or transportation from an organization that lobbies the General Assembly.

However, the season tickets are legal because they are a gift from USC to another public office for state-related purposes, commission attorney Michael Burchstead said.

He said the tickets can be donated as long as they are used by the governor’s office for state-related business, including economic development or hosting foreign dignitaries, rather than personal use.

Gov. Nikki Haley, a Clemson University graduate, does not get season tickets from her alma mater, said Butch Bowers, an attorney for Haley. However, friends of the governor purchase a suite for her at Clemson games, which she discloses as a gift on her statement of economic interest.

Ten donors contributed nearly $29,000 to pay for the governor’s suite at Clemson games in 2014. Eight of those donors contributed to Haley’s successful 2014 re-election campaign. Four are school trustees.

Staff writer Andrew Shain contributed. Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

Commission won’t drop ethics allegations against Lt. Gov. McMaster

The S.C. Ethics Commission refused Wednesday to dismiss allegations that Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster accepted $72,700 in improper contributions from 51 donors. McMaster used that money to pay off campaign debt during his unsuccessful 2010 bid for governor.

McMaster will try to settle the allegations against him before his Oct. 21 Ethics Commission hearing, attorney Butch Bowers said.

That resolution could include McMaster reopening his campaign account and raising money to pay back the improper contributions.

The Ethics Commission needs to hold McMaster, a veteran of several statewide races, to the same standards as people who have never run for office or make errors in campaign filings, commission attorney Michael Burchstead said.

To treat McMaster any different would be a troubling precedent, he said. “We don’t think he intentionally skirted the law at all.”

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