COLUMBIA — A government watchdog group wants South Carolina’s attorney general to weigh in on whether Gov. Nikki Haley should reimburse taxpayers for a trip to North Carolina in June.
In a letter provided to The Associated Press, John Crangle of Common Cause asked the director of the State Ethics Commission to either change his mind or seek an attorney general’s opinion.
“We’re giving him a chance to correct his own mistake,” Crangle said after hand-delivering the letter to the agency Monday.
Director Herb Hayden has said Haley doesn’t need to pay for her security detail’s expenses to a June 27 fundraiser for an organization supporting North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s agenda. He insists she and other politicians who are assigned public vehicles must reimburse only for events specifically held to raise money for them.
Hayden told AP his position is firm, but he will ask the commission’s board members if they want to seek the advice of Attorney General Alan Wilson, or perhaps issue their own opinion. Their next meeting is Nov. 20.
State law requires a security detail for the governor. But it also bars taxpayer funds or public equipment from being used for campaign events.
Crangle contends the North Carolina event clearly benefited Haley’s campaign, noting the donations she received afterward.
The “Haley trip was exactly the type of use of state assets the statute was designed to regulate,” wrote Crangle, noting he helped draft the 1991 ethics act following Lost Trust, the FBI operation that resulted in 27 convictions or guilty pleas of state legislators and lobbyists.
The reimbursement issue arose after the State Law Enforcement Division confirmed in late August that Haley was in Greensboro, N.C., on June 27 when an agent driving her crashed into a concrete pole in the roadway. Haley and two other passengers, both campaign staff, weren’t injured.
Haley was slated to attend the first of a two-day fundraiser for the Renew North Carolina Foundation. According to her second-quarter filings, Haley’s campaign collected more than $40,000 from 21 North Carolina residents from June 27 through June 30.
In July, Haley’s campaign reimbursed three state agencies a total of $7,610 for her security agents’ extra costs during out-of-state fundraisers in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Her spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said there was no reimbursement for the Greensboro, N.C., trip because that wasn’t a fundraiser for her.
Hayden called it ludicrous to expect any officeholder with a public vehicle to go back and calculate mileage or other reimbursements “if they’re out someplace and someone hands them a check.”
“If it’s a campaign event, then I agree 100 percent,” he said. “But the foundation has nothing to do with her campaign, or anyone’s campaign. To suggest that because somebody handed her checks while she was there makes it a campaign event is totally foreign to me.”
A spokesman for Wilson said he had no comment on Crangle’s request.