Haley ethics inquiry

What happened Wednesday? The House Ethics Committee unanimously voted to reopen its inquiry into whether Gov. Nikki Haley illegally lobbied while she was a House member.What comes next? The committee plans to call witnesses and hold a public hearing on the allegations against Haley made by GOP activist John Rainey.

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley is back on the hot seat.

A legislative panel examining allegations that Haley illegally lobbied while she was a House member did an about-face Wednesday evening, unanimously voting to reopen its investigation and hold a public hearing.

“There was some consensus that we needed to reopen the complaint and dig deeper,” said House Ethics Committee Chairman Roland Smith, R-Warrenville.

The committee will call witnesses, issuing subpoenas if necessary, to testify at the hearing. It will be held in the next 30 days.

Haley has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and her spokesman said the decision to reopen the investigation shows that the inquiry has been overrun by politics.

The majority of committee members voted early this month to dismiss the allegations against Haley made by GOP activist John Rainey, then decided to request additional employment records from the governor's office two weeks later.

Some committee members said before voting to reopen the inquiry Wednesday that there still are unanswered questions about Haley's work for two pre-gubernatorial employers that need to be resolved.

“We needed more facts,” said Camden Rep. Laurie Funderburk, the committee's lone Democrat.

She said the committee should have held a hearing earlier this month before dismissing the allegations against Haley.

Rainey praised the committee's decision and said he looks forward to testifying.

An attorney representing Haley unsuccessfully argued Wednesday that the committee missed the deadline to reopen its inquiry, and a spokesman for the governor slammed the committee's move.

“It's a shame that South Carolina's political system is once again failing the people and that politics are trumping the law,” Rob Godfrey said.

“The governor will do what she has done time and again throughout this process, before and after the claims were dismissed — be open and honest about her work as a legislator, and stay focused on the things that matter to South Carolinians, getting our economy moving and reforming the backwards, good old boy system of government that so clearly thrives in Columbia.”

Haley has accused GOP House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston of inappropriately influencing the Ethics Committee behind the scenes, a charge Harrell has denied.

GOP Ethics Committee member Mike Gambrell of Honea Path said at Wednesday's meeting that the committee's inquiry has become a “political football,” subject to intense external speculation and rumor.

He is not the only committee member who feels that way.

Rep. Joan Brady, R-Columbia, said this week that she planned to make a motion that the Haley complaint be sent to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson for consideration.

She said there are too many “political factors” entering into the committee's handling of the allegations, and Wilson could put the issue to rest.

Brady said Wednesday that she plans to hold off on the motion until after the public hearing.

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