COLUMBIA -- Under a sprawling oak tree in the center of the University of South Carolina's campus Friday, an influential husband and wife business team announced plans to build a $313 million drug manufacturing plant in Lexington County, where more than 700 people eventually might find work.
The power couple with Palmetto State roots, Lou and Bill Kennedy, said the factory would be a new hub for Orlando, Fla.-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp. Lou Kennedy is company CEO; Bill Kennedy is its strategic consultant.
Nephron is among the biggest job hauls of Gov. Nikki Haley's year-old administration.
The Kennedys, who will get $4.5 million from the state to help them build, let Gov. Nikki Haley borrow their private jet for two days last month when the first-term Republican flew to Dallas for a campaign fundraising event.
People with potential business before the state, including the Kennedys, have personally provided at least 17 flights for Haley since she was elected in November 2010.
Haley has given at least three of them appointments to influential government posts.
Haley has flown 54 times since being elected, using the state plane for a dozen trips in less than a year.
In all, she has spent at least a month-and-a-half outside South Carolina.
But with little state oversight, Haley's travel reports have not been scrutinized.
Of the ethics rules, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said in a statement: "We have provided the value of flights based on the fair market value of the flight."
Haley said she has used relationships forged during out-of-state travel "to bring jobs to our state."
"We have people who support what I am doing across the country," Haley said. "We don't use tax dollars to go do fundraising trips. They were kind enough to do that."
J. Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College politics professor who has followed South Carolina politics for two decades, had another thought: "That's quid pro quo," he said.
Two plane providers obtained appointments to the board of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control while a third became chairman of the Patriots Point Development Authority.
Haley appointed Ray Chandler, a Manning attorney, chairman of the Development Authority in March -- the same month he paid a reported $2,400 for the governor to take private planes to town hall meetings in Myrtle Beach and Bluffton.
She appointed developer Allen Amsler as DHEC board chairman in April -- the same month Amsler paid a reported $700 for the governor and her husband to fly to the mountains of North Carolina to visit a sick nephew.
She also appointed R. Kenyon Wells, president of a company that distributes medical supplies, to the DHEC board in April -- the same month Wells paid a reported $1,036 for Haley to travel with her campaign aide and a staffer back home from the Heritage Foundation Annual Leadership Conference in Palm Beach, Fla.
"They're so closely tied in terms of timing," Bitzer said. "That should send up red flags about whether there was an exchange."
Wells, who also paid for a personal trip for Haley and accompanied her to Athens, Ga., last month, could not be reached.
Amsler is CEO of a Columbia construction company that builds factories, health-care facilities, stores and other large-scale projects. He also paid for a personal trip for the governor and her family in August and another earlier this month when Haley traveled with her campaign aide.
Amsler said he provided the flights because Haley is a friend; the contributions were not politically motivated, he said.
Chandler said Friday he has provided the governor with between five and 10 in-state trips on his personal plane, although Haley has reported only two, according to flight logs current through Oct. 9.
Of his appointment to the development authority, Chandler said: "It's not exactly a plum job. It's work. It's a challenge." He said he does not accept the per diem he is entitled to.
Indian-Americans have been among Haley's top financial supporters.
Vikram Kumar, vice president of an Illinois electronics manufacturing company, spent more than $4,500 to fly Haley, her family and staffers to Chicago for a National Indian American Coalition event in July.
Raj Mantena is a pharmaceutical magnate from Orlando who sold his drug management company for $210 million in cash and stock in 2006, according to published reports. He paid for Haley to travel cross-country for a Republican Governors Association event. It was one of at least nine trips Haley took for meetings involving the association, whose "primary mission is to help elect Republicans to governorships throughout the nation," according to its website.
Bitzer, the politics professor, called national association and think-tank meetings "credential-building trips" that fuel a politician's rise.
"It indicates a level of interest in and a potential of higher office," said Bitzer, who likened Haley's travel to that of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Christie, who was once thought to be a presidential contender, is a "prized commodity in the Republican Party. Haley is another prized commodity. People want her endorsement," he said.
Marisa Crawford, a Haley campaign aide, flew with the governor for 19 of the out-of-state trips.
"It seems a little heavy considering there are major issues facing the state," Bitzer said. "Devoting as much time as that to re-election in three years when she should be working on issues now."
Haley generally travels with an entourage of at least a half-dozen, her flight log shows. Regularly accompanying her are her husband, top aides and a security detail.
When traveling on "personal time" -- which the governor did a reported 19 times -- or for campaign fundraising, Haley and her staffers still collect state salaries. State staff, however, must take vacation days during the trips, Haley's spokesman said.
On Friday, S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis took issue with Haley's out-of-state travel.
"Elected officials have the responsibility to prove to the citizens that we are actually working and doing the job they elected us to do," Loftis said in an e-mailed response to questions about the governor's schedule.
Cost of chartered flights
Haley's staff might have undervalued the rates of chartered flights. For example, the round-trip chartered trip to San Diego -- provided by Mantena -- had a reported value of $1,400.
The market value of such a flight is about $35,000, according to rates provided by Air Charter Service, a company with offices in Florida that books private flights worldwide.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry faced criticism for the same issue last week, when reports surfaced that he underpaid for chartered flights, effectively providing him with unreported campaign contributions.
S.C. Ethics Commission Director Herb Hayden said the reporting would be in violation of ethics laws if a flight's reported value is intentionally listed below the actual value.
For state reporting purposes, the value of a private flight is determined by multiplying the average cost per hour to operate the aircraft by the number of hours flown, Hayden said. Reported value for travel on privately owned planes would be less than market rates for commercial and charter flights that make profits, he said.
Godfrey, Haley's spokesman, said the governor's office reports prices "as measured by the cost of a comparable commercial airline ticket for that same travel."
Godfrey could not be reached late Friday to explain the reporting differences.
During his first 10 months in office, former Gov. Jim Hodges took about half the number out-of-state trips that Haley has reported taking, according to daily calendars on file at the S.C. Department of Archives and History.
The one-term Democratic governor spent about 30 days outside South Carolina during that time.
The archives department had no calendars on file for either former Republican Govs. Mark Sanford or Carroll Campbell. Records for former Republican Gov. David Beasley were incomplete.
Haley has more out-of-state trips on the immediate horizon. She will travel to Phoenix in less than two weeks to attend the annual dinner of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank.
Haley's supporters, including Lou and Bill Kennedy, seem happy to provide her means for getting there.
"The consideration was to help the state I love, be a part of South Carolina," Lou Kennedy said. "She's a woman working as hard as I am. ... I have a great respect for that, for women who work hard."
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