Haley facing ethics inquiry into donation reports

  • Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 12:51 a.m., Updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 6:39 p.m.
Gov. Nikki Haley (Wade Spees/postandcourier.com) Buy this photo

COLUMBIA — Republican Gov. Nikki Haley will face an ethics inquiry after a Democrat complained that her campaign incorrectly reported more than $1.3 million in contributions.

The State Ethics Commission plans to hold a hearing July 18 to determine if Haley’s campaign violated state law by failing to list the occupations and addresses of some donors. One count is related to the missing occupation information, the others to the missing addresses.

The governor’s office referred questions to an attorney for the Haley campaign, Butch Bowers, who said the campaign has been working with the commission to resolve the “routine” matters. He said he anticipated that a hearing wouldn’t be necessary.

The issue burst into the spotlight Tuesday when the Ethics Commission announced that there was probable cause to substantiate the allegations, which were filed last summer by a state Democratic Party employee.

Haley could face fines of up to $2,000 for each violation, according to state ethics law. It is unclear whether that means each of the seven counts to be addressed at the hearing or each instance of violation. Ethics officials could not be reached for clarification.

At the hearing, three commissioners will hear from the Democrat who made the complaint and Haley or a representative, then decide if any laws were broken.

Missing occupations
Bowers said the campaign has proven that it made its best efforts to obtain the donor information in accordance with state law, and that the campaign has been able to track down the addresses of four of the six donors with missing addresses listed in the complaint.

Those efforts have included sending postcards and making phone calls to donors in pursuit of the missing information, Bowers said.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Herbert Hayden did not respond to a request for comment, but he told The Associated Press that in addition to the two still-missing addresses, hundreds of donors’ occupations are absent from Haley campaign filings.

Hayden told the AP that candidates are not required to report their donors’ occupations, but must be able to furnish a list if requested.

Addresses are needed in case donors’ identities need to be verified, he said.

A spokeswoman for the Haley campaign said the campaign has agreed, after working with the commission, to list the donations totaling $326.78 from the two contributors with missing addresses as “anonymous.”

The campaign will transfer those contributions to the Children’s Trust Fund, campaign aide Marisa Crawford said.

According to state law, the commission may waive further proceedings if the subject of an inquiry takes action to remedy or correct the alleged violation.

Ethics need scrutiny
S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said the party feels it is its responsibility to scrutinize the ethics compliance of state Republican leaders.

“This is a partisan attack, but it’s not a Democratic partisan attack,” he said. “It’s an attack by partisans of the law.”

The party’s outreach coordinator, Bridget Tripp, filed the complaint containing the alleged violations by the Haley campaign.

Harpootlian said a party employee also filed a complaint related to ethics violations by former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, a Republican who was hit with 106 ethics violations. Ard pleaded guilty and agreed to pay more than $46,000 in fines and repay the state $24,000.

He was indicted by the state grand jury on crimes related to his spending of campaign finance money and resigned from office in a deal that allowed him to avoid jail time.

Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, Haley’s predecessor, also was investigated by the Ethics Commission while in office and was hit with the largest ethics fine in state history.

He eventually paid $74,000 for violations related to his use of state planes and campaign money connected to his affair with an Argentine woman. Sanford also paid $36,498 to cover costs related to the investigation.

Democrats have called on Haley to waive confidentiality in a possible separate investigation by the House Ethics Committee widely expected to be related to alleged illegal lobbying for an employer by the governor while she was still a state representative.

A circuit judge last month dismissed a complaint by GOP activist and former state Board of Economic Advisers Chairman John Rainey that included the allegation.

The judge didn’t rule on the merits of Rainey’s complaint, instead deciding that under state law, the House Ethics Committee or the State Ethics Commission must handle the issue.

House Ethics Committee investigations are confidential, and Haley has said she will not waive confidentiality in a possible investigation.

‘Unopened baggage’
Michael Bitzer, a longtime observer of South Carolina politics and a professor at Catawba College, said the Ethics Commission inquiry is problematic for Haley, because her campaign for governor was centered on a commitment to transparency.

“This, coupled with the other allegations that have kind of continuously been bubbling, certainly doesn’t help her in South Carolina,” he said.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Haley was not a likely choice to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee anyway, but the ethics inquiry — even if partisan in nature — could hurt any remaining shot at that role.

“A presidential nominee is not going to pick a VP candidate who brings visible, unopened baggage,” he said.

Haley has repeatedly said she made a commitment to the people of South Carolina to serve out her four-year term and would not accept her party’s vice presidential nomination or a Cabinet post in a potential Romney administration.

Haley took office in January 2011.

Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter at @stephenlargen.

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