COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley has gone unfiltered.
A fundraising appeal on Gov. Nikki Haley’s Facebook page prompted the company late last week to ask the governor’s office to take it down. Although the image had been up for several months, Haley’s office obliged, swapping out a cover photo that asked for $50 donations in exchange for a personalized copy of her memoir for a solicitation-free image.According to Facebook’s rules for cover photos, the largest image on a page, no one can feature price or purchase information or calls to action, such as “Get it now.” In the current page design, Haley’s nearby, smaller profile picture features a photo of the book. Another nearby button pitches signed copies in exchange for a donation.Haley has said proceeds from the book will go to her charity. Her campaign has said it purchased the copies of the book being used for fundraising.
The first-term Republican is increasingly using social media as her go-to political tool.
Haley has long favored expressions of musical fandom, jobs announcements, updates on the goings-on of the First Family and question-and-answer sessions on her Facebook page.
In recent months, Haley — and in one case husband Michael — has turned to the service to lash foes and vent political frustrations, generating plenty of news along the way.
The vast majority of governors and prominent elected officials across the country have Facebook and Twitter accounts. (Haley favors Facebook; her tweets are generally automatic copies of her Facebook posts.)
Haley is the rarer politician who actually authors her own account, instead of having staffers do it.
Her office said she writes the vast majority of her own posts, and asks a staff member to post something only in rare instances when she can’t access her account.
“It is my way of communicating directly with the people,” she said in an interview Friday. “I like having that direct connection with them.”
The practice earns Haley praise from political consultants, but it carries an inherent risk — no opportunity for second thoughts or staff-applied polish.
“You’re going to have some detriment any time a politician delivers a message without going through her communications staff, that’s just the way it is,” said GOP consultant Wesley Donehue, whose firm specializes in online branding.
Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political scientist and pollster, said the inherent danger in Haley’s use of Facebook is that it can add a new twist to a story and draw more attention.
Among Haley’s recent eyebrow-raising Facebook posts was a June 22 dispatch in which she endorsed Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice in a GOP runoff for South Carolina’s new 7th District congressional seat.
In the post, Haley ripped Rice’s opponent, her longtime adversary and former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, as a phony conservative and “self-interested career politician.”
A day earlier, Michael Haley, a civilian technician with the S.C. National Guard, wrote a post on his own Facebook page comparing the S.C. Senate’s failure to vote on his wife’s favored reform measure to the deaths of three S.C. soldiers in Afghanistan.
“It amazes me that in a week that we have heroes who have died fighting for our freedoms, we have cowards who are afraid to take a vote in the senate,” Michael Haley wrote.
The comment prompted some senators to demand an apology and question whether he broke the law that governs federal employees’ political activities.
The head of the S.C. National Guard told The State newspaper that Michael Haley did not violate the law.
Another pair of attention-grabbing posts followed a month later.
Nikki Haley drew the ire of critics and victim advocates during the mid-July legislative veto session when they said she referred to the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault as “special interests.”
“(V)eto of SC Coalition of Domestic Violence $453,680,” Haley wrote during one of her many veto-session posts. “Special interests made their way into the DHEC budget. This is not about the merit of their fights but the back door way of getting the money. It’s wrong and another loophole for legislators and special interests to use. Defeated 111-0.”
Haley manned her Facebook page for hours at a time during the two-day veto session, posting lawmakers’ votes on sustained and overridden vetoes alike.
Just a day after the session ended, Haley’s page was back in the spotlight.
The governor set off a round of questions and speculation when she blasted The State newspaper for asking questions for a story exploring whether a job Haley’s daughter got at the Statehouse gift shop was the product of nepotism.
The story ran a week later, but Haley’s post, and another featuring comments from the SLED chief, explaining that S.C. governors’ children had historically been treated as off-limits piqued major interest in the article.
Some critics have suggested that Haley’s posts likely created much more interest in a story she clearly disliked than it otherwise would have received.
Haley said Friday that she has “learned lessons from a couple of Facebook posts,” but declined to specify which ones.
The governor said she has been surprised by the media attention some of her posts have generated.
Her press office was inundated with calls from the national media two days after the state’s GOP presidential primary in January, she said.
Haley said the reporters were inquiring whether there was a connection between her post about her preference for the song “Landslide” and Mitt Romney’s huge margin of defeat the previous weekend.
The governor said her office had to explain to reporters that she just likes the song, like the many others she posts about.
Haley said her frustrations with the media are one of the reasons she uses Facebook.
“It’s my way of getting information out that doesn’t always get out,” she said. “It’s my way of correcting it.”
Haley said her aim in using Facebook is to put issues in her own words.
Galvanizing the base
A pair of S.C. political observers said Haley’s Facebook page is most effective as a way to reach out to her political base.
“What it does is it fires up her supporters,” said Huffmon, the Winthrop pollster. “These (posts) are mainly aimed at supporters who see her as besieged.”
Michael Bitzer, a longtime watcher of South Carolina politics and a professor at Catawba College, said Haley’s posts are a way to bypass the traditional media and “speak directly to her people.”
“I think if you look at the number of comments that she gets in return, she (mainly) speaks to her constituency,” he said.
Haley’s page contains user comments supportive and critical of the governor, some of which she said come from “haters.”
People benefit from her posts, Haley said, because, “At least it gives me an opportunity to say where I’ve come from.”
Donehue, the Web-focused consultant, said Haley is “halfway there” to using Facebook in the most effective way.
“Any politician that does it themselves deserves a lot of credit,” he said.
Donehue said Haley’s posts match her political brand, which includes a focus on what the governor has framed as fighting the state’s “good ol’ boy” establishment.
“She is able to go on social media and say the press is out to get me,” he added.
But Donehue said Haley doesn’t interact enough, a social media practice epitomized by Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker.
“She does town halls but often uses it as one-way communication,” he said. “Gov. Haley is using Facebook like a press release.”
He said Haley should respond to criticism as long as it isn’t “over the top.”
Some of Haley’s former followers took to their own Twitter and Facebook accounts and blogs this year to complain about being banned from the governor’s page for disagreeing with her, while her supporters are allowed to comment at will.
Haley’s spokesman Rob Godfrey said Friday that she welcomes differing opinions and interacts frequently on Facebook, not only on policy matters but also constituent service.
Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.