COLUMBIA — Democrats accused Gov. Nikki Haley Thursday of misusing the state’s planes by taking her campaign-paid videographer with her on flights around South Carolina, while her spokesman countered that there is nothing illegal about it.
Zach Pippin accompanied Haley on taxpayer-funded flights on 17 days between March 2012 and last month, according to Aeronautics Commission records. Pippin is considered a part-time employee of the Republican governor, paid $30,133 from her campaign account between January 2012 and February 2013, according to her campaign filings.
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said if Haley wants her videographer with her, he or Haley needs to pay his way or let him drive separately. Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, called on Haley to reimburse the state $400 for each leg Pippin has flown since she took office.
Haley’s office dismissed the criticism.
Her spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said it’s legal for Pippin to be on the plane to film Haley at official functions. An opinion from a state Ethics Commission attorney confirms that. The videographer can fly at the governor’s invitation, provided the trips follow state law barring the planes’ use for bill signings, press conferences and political functions, ethics attorney Cathy Hazelwood wrote in an opinion that the governor’s office sought in February.
Assuming the trips conform, there is no reason to reimburse, Hazelwood wrote.
Godfrey disagreed that Pippin’s function is to film for Haley’s commercials. His videos are posted on the governor’s website and YouTube and distributed through her email list. His presence on the planes with Haley does not add to the flights’ cost to taxpayers.
“When she came into office, Governor Haley wanted to make sure every citizen who couldn’t make it to an event — and every reporter — could still see for themselves the work she’s doing and listen to the questions and her answers,” Godfrey said. “To that end, we hired a videographer and, rather than pay him with tax dollars, paid him with campaign funds, just as the law allows.”
Even if Pippin’s flights are legal, Lourie said, they are inappropriate.
An amendment inserted in the Senate’s 2013-14 budget plan during floor debate Thursday would make the issue moot.
Senators voted 26-14 to sell the two state planes, with supporters saying that would end the recurring accusations of their misuse by government officials.