Gov. Haley is on the cellphone grid — but out of public view

Gov. Nikki Haley

Since the start of Gov. Nikki Haley’s first term in 2011, her election campaign account has paid $17,000 for a cellphone that’s off limits to public disclosure laws.

Unlike a state-taxpayer provided phone, Haley can use it to text message state officials or staff without disclosing the content under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

“The governor uses her non-state cellphone for various reasons permitted by law, including incidental personal use,” Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said.

Texting, calls and in-person meetings are Haley’s preferred forms of communication and all of them leave little to no public trace. Calls to agencies or a “fellow governor” are noted on Haley’s public schedule, but details are not always revealed.

Haley’s communication habits drew new scrutiny after she left no trace — besides an automatic reply — amid 10,000 pages of correspondence disclosed by her office from the public wanting to comment about bringing the Confederate battle flag down from the Statehouse grounds last summer.

Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association, said text messages regarding public business sent and received by the governor should be subject to FOIA regardless of whether the state or her campaign pays for the phone.

“If you have a text message sent from your cellphone that relates to the conduct of public business, that would be a public record,” Rogers said. “And there should be a provision to archive it. Is that archiving happening? I think that’s unlikely.”

It’s unclear if any text messages will head to the state archives when Haley leaves office. None came over from former Gov. Mark Sanford, said state archives director Eric Emerson, adding that they can be archived if the messages are saved.

“If the governor is using it (the phone) for texting, that would be considered executive-level correspondence,” Emerson said. “If they want to save those, we can ingest those. It’s not on a government server, so it’s not incumbent upon them to save them.”

Haley isn’t alone in using campaign money for private cell use. At least 16 lawmakers use campaign funds to pay for phones, disclosure reports show, with bills ranging from $58 to more than $300 a month. Haley’s phone and a Wi-Fi hot spot tab averages $270 a month.

It’s all legal under state law.

“Personal use of campaign cellphones would not be prohibited unless that use caused additional expense, or it could be proven that the primary use of the phone was for personal use rather than campaign purposes,” S.C. Ethics Commission Director Herb Hayden said.

When Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was called out for wife Melania’s apparent lifting of passages from Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech, the Trump campaign went into damage control.

One of the staffers called on to lead the spin has South Carolina ties.

Senior communications adviser Jason Miller came to the Trump campaign immediately after working with U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., during his June GOP primary run.

It was Miller who authored the first official Trump response.

“In writing her beautiful speech, Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking,” the statement read. “Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”

The borrowing of the Obama phrasing didn’t go untouched by South Carolina Democrats. S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pounce on the Republican foul up.

“I believe next up we’re going to have Melania Trump with an original speech she wrote called ‘I Have a Dream,’ ” Rutherford said during a rally with fellow state Democrats.

Former S.C. state Rep. Bakari Sellers is now in the vape business.

Sellers said he jumped at the opportunity to partner with former University of South Carolina football player Jadeveon Clowney to open KURE Columbia Vaporium and Lounge in Columbia’s Vista area.

Vaping, which some see as an alternative to tobacco, uses e-liquids to create an inhale-ready vapor with a small inner coil that slowly heats.

The Gervais Street shop held a grand opening event Tuesday featuring Clowney.

“I know JD and (Charlotte capitalist) Marty (Sumichrast) and it was a business opportunity and a great time to make an investment,” Sellers said Thursday from Cleveland, where he was contributing commentary on the Republican National Convention for CNN. “And I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and have my own business.”

KURE is the first business venture for the former Democratic lieutenant governor candidate, aside from a few rental properties. But why invest in the e-cigarette business?

“It’s a new industry trying to get people away from smoking traditional tobacco,” he said. “The goal is to get (smoking) to zero.”

A local real estate company’s billboard that plays on the anti-Donald Trump, anti-Hillary Clinton mood of the country is working.

Realtor Jeff Cook posted his sign along Interstate 26 on Monday — the first day of the Republican National Convention — showing pictures of the presumptive party nominees.

The accompanying wording asks the question: “Moving to Canada? We can sell your home.”

While some of America is less than enthusiastic about its party ticket choices, Cook reports customers have come into his office quoting the sign as the reason they wanted his company to sell their property.

“They’re ticked off about politics,” he said.

Cook said the sign is not unique to Charleston and that some of his fellow real estate agent buddies are doing the same thing in other parts of the country.

He also doubted anyone is specifically selling their house with the intention of heading north across the border to start a new life.

But he did say the idea is at least getting him more notice in a red-hot Charleston sales market.

Charleston County Democrats have scheduled a watch party Thursday to view presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech live from Philadelphia.

The event runs from 7-11 p.m. at the Woolfe Street Playhouse, 34 Woolfe St., in Charleston.

Reporters Gavin Jackson, Maya Prabhu and Schuyler Kropf contributed.