The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office said it cannot give an opinion on whether or not Governor Nikki Haley’s administration should reimburse the state over her use of state resources to attend political fundraisers. Instead it said such a decision would need to be made by the State Ethics Commission.
State Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) had requested the opinion in November, after it was revealed a state-owned vehicle crashed while carrying the governor to a North Carolina political fundraiser. State officials routinely ask the Attorney General’s Office to speculate how a court would rule on a potential legal matter. Such an opinion has no actual legal force.
In the opinion, Solicitor General Robert Cook wrote he could not comment on the specific case of Governor Haley and that only the Ethics Commission could make a specific ruling. But he noted that state law provides the governor with a car and security detail, but no limitations requiring their use for official business only. Lawmakers did pass language in the state budget limiting the use of state planes solely for official business.
Hutto said Thursday he will propose an amendment that would require a state official’s campaign to reimburse mileage and other costs if it uses state vehicles. The amendment could be attached to an ethics reform bill currently on the Senate floor, he said. “I don’t think people should be able to use state assets when they’re involved in political campaigns,” he told reporters after a legislative workshop Thursday.
An attorney for the State Ethics Commission initially said she sent a letter to the Governor’s Office in August stating the North Carolina trip was a campaign violation. The letter said Haley’s campaign needed to reimburse the cost of the trip. However, commission director Herb Hayden overruled the attorney a day later, saying she did know all of the facts. Hayden told The Nerve publication a month later that the letter was never sent and was destroyed. But the Associated Press was able to track down a copy of the letter in October and published its contents.
Included in documents requested by The Nerve was a response from Haley’s attorney arguing the trip was not political because the governor had visited a Boeing supplier earlier in the day. The attorney also said the political event Haley attended was actually a policy forum raising money for the conservative PAC RenewNC and that the governor did not solicit nor receive donations that night.
The watchdog group Common Cause has argued the governor should still reimburse the state, as the political event was not state business. Director John Crangle also questioned Hayden’s motives for claiming that the letter was destroyed. “If anyone should follow the law, it should be the State Ethics Commission,” he told The Nerve.