EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch a livestream of today’s ethics panel hearing from SCETV.
BY STEPHEN LARGENslargen@postandcourier.com
COLUMBIA — An ethics panel will launch an unprecedented public hearing today into allegations that Gov. Nikki Haley illegally lobbied and exploited her office while serving as a state representative.
The S.C. House Ethics Committee has been examining the charges since March, first dismissing them but later voting to reopen an investigation.
Haley, a House member from Lexington County from 2005-10, is the first governor to be investigated by the previously low-profile committee.
The first-term Republican has repeatedly denied the allegations.
The hearing is expected to last two days.
What are the allegations?That Haley used her office to lobby for two pre-gubernatorial employers, the Lexington Medical Center Foundation and Midlands engineering firm Wilbur Smith Associates.
Who are the key players?Haley, her accuser John Rainey — a GOP activist and former chairman of the state Board of Economic Advisers — and the collection of lobbyists, company officials, state officials and lawyers who were issued subpoenas by the committee.
Will Haley testify?Not likely. Unlike Rainey, she was not subpoenaed. But her office has maintained that if she is unexpectedly called to testify at the hearing, she likely would.
What could happen?The committee again could dismiss the allegations against Haley, issue a public reprimand and/or levy a fine, or if criminal violations are suspected, refer the case to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson for further investigation.
Are fireworks expected?Possibly. Although Rainey has submitted reams of information to the committee detailing his allegations against Haley, he has never publicly testified.
Also, in defending the governor, a Haley attorney has pledged to provide a list of lawmakers who work for companies and groups that employ Statehouse lobbyists. Such information is not currently required to be publicly disclosed.
If the list is released, it could call into question the behavior and compensation of many state lawmakers.
What are the implications?Even before the committee makes its decision, some state lawmakers are planning to introduce legislation next year that would tighten ethics disclosure laws.
If Haley is sanctioned or the allegations against her are sent to the attorney general’s office, such proposals likely would pick up significant momentum.