Haley target of ethics lawsuit

Nikki Haley

Grace Beahm

COLUMBIA -- A top Republican donor and critic of Gov. Nikki Haley asked a court Thursday to decide whether she broke ethics laws while she was a member of the South Carolina House. Haley discounted the lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed in circuit court in Richland County by John Rainey centers around Haley's jobs as a fundraiser for the Lexington Medical Center and with an engineering firm that has state contracts.

The lawsuit is the culmination of months of digging by Rainey, former chairman of the state Board of Economic Advisors, who first raised questions about Haley's work in 2010 during her campaign for governor.

Rainey, a longtime Republican activist, declined comment on the suit Thursday, as did his lawyer, Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian.

"There's nothing there," Haley said during a visit Thursday to the Alcoa aluminum plant in Goose Creek. "He needs to get a life," she said, referring to Rainey. "It's a silly vendetta."

The lawsuit accuses the Republican governor of working as a lobbyist for the hospital, and of soliciting lobbyists to donate to its foundation.

It also accuses her of failing to disclose information on campaign filings about her work for Wilbur Smith, and of not recusing herself from a vote benefiting the employer, as well as not explaining on another vote why she did recuse herself.

"Haley exploited her public office for personal financial gain by trading on her influence and office to benefit corporations that were paying her money," the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit accuses Haley, first elected in 2004 to represent Lexington in the House, of lobbying the state Department of Health and Environment Control on behalf of Lexington Medical, as it sought permission for a new open-heart surgery center.