Haley ethics inquiry could have major Statehouse implications
COLUMBIA — A state House panel’s investigation of Gov. Nikki Haley threatens to call into question the behavior and compensation of many state lawmakers.
Where it stands now
A legislative panel voted this week to reopen its inquiry into whether Gov. Nikki Haley illegally lobbied while she was a House member.
Committee members will call witnesses to appear at a public hearing on the allegations against Haley.
Referring to what likely will be the most sought-after piece of paper here this summer, an attorney for Haley raised eyebrows at a Wednesday hearing by pledging to provide the House Ethics Committee with a list of legislators who work for companies and groups that employ Statehouse lobbyists.
Lawmakers do not have to publicly report compensation from such groups, known as “lobbyist principals,” under state law unless the group is itself a government agency, such as a university, according to S.C. Ethics Commission Executive Director Herbert Hayden.
Lobbyist principals, the vast majority of which are companies, also do not have to report that they employ state lawmakers.
Rep. Joan Brady, a Columbia Republican and committee member, asked for the list of lawmakers after Haley attorney Butch Bowers claimed that the governor’s behavior is common practice among lawmakers.
“Did you know that sitting among you in the chamber, there are House members who are employed by or paid by lobbyist principals?” Bowers asked Ethics Committee members.
“Sure there are. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Brady said Thursday that Bowers’ comments stuck out as an odd defense to use.
“You just can’t throw it out there if you can’t back it up,” she said.
She said she doesn’t know what the committee will do with the list once it is provided.
Fellow Ethics Committee member Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, said he doesn’t know any lawmakers who actively lobby in the chamber, and he wants to see Bowers’ list.
House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, said lawmakers and the public need to be made aware if lawmakers are working for lobbyist principals.
Pitts said the list could help Ethics Committee staff members as they seek to develop proposed changes to state law that clarify what exactly constitutes illegal lobbying.
State law already bars S.C. public officials from using their position for the benefit of themselves, an employer or a family member.
The Ethics Committee asked staff members to come up with the new lobbying laws at a meeting in early May in which committee members voted 5-1 along partisan lines to dismiss the allegations against Haley.
The committee, comprised of five Republicans and one Democrat, voted this week to reopen its investigation into the complaint against Haley filed by GOP activist John Rainey.
Haley’s office directed questions about the list to Bowers, who would provide only a prepared statement.
“It will be provided to the committee in due time,” he said in an email. “This is a legal process, and we are not going to litigate it in the press.”
It is unclear how Bowers will go about compiling the list, because lawmakers’ work for lobbyist principals is not disclosed in public documents.
Haley was paid by a lobbyist principal, Lexington Medical Center, while she was a House member from Lexington County at the same time the hospital was seeking state approval to open a heart-surgery center.
The governor’s attorneys have said she was working for the hospital’s foundation and was paid through the hospital just like every other foundation employee.
Furthermore, Haley did not lobby for the hospital, or another pre-gubernatorial employer, her attorneys have said and company officials have sworn in affidavits provided to the Ethics Committee.
Rainey has pointed to an email Haley sent to a hospital official that references winning House colleagues’ support for the heart center as evidence that the governor illegally lobbied.
In initially dismissing the complaint early last month, Ethics Committee members said the message was merely evidence of a lawmaker supporting a project in her district, not illegal lobbying.