A South Carolina House ethics panel dismissed accusations of illegal lobbying and other wrongdoing against Gov. Nikki Haley Friday morning.
The House Ethics Committee’s ruling came after the governor testified Thursday that she did not break the law while she was in the House from 2005-2010. She followed ten other witnesses who told the panel that they were not aware of any wrongdoing by the governor.
In a statement, her accuser John Rainey called the hearing a “farce,” because he was not able to testify. He also claimed the committee did not call witnesses who could have given more damning testimony about the governor.
“Today it is clear that the House Ethics Committee harbors a culture of corruption enshrouded in a conspiracy of silence,” he said in the statement.
Rainey’s accusations focused on then-Rep. Nikki Haley’s work with former engineering firm Wilbur Smith Associates and her time as a fundraiser for the Lexington Medical Center’s nonprofit foundation.
Committee Chairman Rep. Roland Smith (R-Aiken) said the committee did a thorough job. “Will everybody agree with the decision? Probably not. But it is a decision of the facts.”
The committee, which is made up of five Republicans and one Democrat, dismissed three of the four charges in unanimous votes. However, the lone Democrat, Rep. Laurie Funderburk (D-Camden) said she thought Haley should have reported her income she made while doing “business development” work with Wilbur Smith.
Funderburk also said she disagreed with the panel on how Haley should have reported her income for the Lexington Medical Center Foundation. At issue is whether Haley properly listed the foundation as her employer on her financial paperwork, or whether she should have instead listed its parent organization Lexington Medical Center. It is a significant issue because the hospital has two lobbyists– putting it under stricter ethics rules.
“The connection between the two is muddy, at best,” Funderburk said.
Committee member Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) said the law was not clear on the subject, but he believed the hospital’s nonprofit operated independently of Lexington Medical Center. “They are separate entities and the evidence was pretty clear on that,” he said Friday, “The Internal Revenue Service recognizes the foundation as a (nonprofit), therefore, a separate entity.”
Smith said the committee had instructed its staff to right new ethics rules that will clarify the issue in future cases.
The committee agreed unanimously to dismiss accusations that the governor voted on legislation in which she had a conflict of interest, that she illegally lobbied on behalf of Lexington Medical Center, and that she received a “personal gain” by requesting donations from lobbyists on behalf of the foundation.
Haley praised the committee. “The Ethics Committee did its job thoroughly, professionally, and well. It’s just a shame that our judicial and legislative bodies have had to waste so much of their time on phony political charges that never had any evidence behind them or any basis in fact.”
However, State Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian (whose firm represented Rainey in the case) bashed the proceedings. In a letter, he said his office sent swimwear to the Ethics Committee “for the next time you take a dive.”