Evidence from Folks still lacking

Rep. Nikki Haley, shown in the House Wednesday, May 26, said Thursday she has no plans to release phone or e-mail records from her state- or campaign-funded accounts. The records could negate or validate claims by political blogger Will Folks that he and

Gerry Melendez

COLUMBIA -- What's going to happen next, and how will it end?

That's what everyone wants to know.

Political blogger Will Folks said he has proof of the "inappropriate physical relationship" he claims he had with GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley. But by late Wednesday he still hadn't provided any evidence.

Haley denies that the two had a relationship.

The stakes are high as Republicans prepare to select their nominee for governor in the June 8 primary.

Folks has dribbled out hints that he has proof of the relationship on his blog, fitsnews.com, since his claim on Monday.

His latest was to release on Wednesday text-message exchanges between himself and Haley's campaign manager, Tim Pearson; Columbia political strategist Wesley Donehue; and an Associated Press reporter.

The messages, sent between May 13 and 22, centered on speculation about whether any political opponents had proof of the "inappropriate physical relationship" that might be released to the media.

Folks' credibility took a hit this week after Haley said he had lied. But one element of his claims was verified Wednesday when Donehue said he would not contest the authenticity of text messages posted on Folks' blog.

Pearson said the texts don't prove anything.

"This blogger's overactive imagination has gone into overdrive," Pearson said in an e-mailed statement to The Post and Courier. "South Carolina politics is full of rumors and innuendo, and of course our campaign did everything in our power to prevent false rumors about Nikki from airing out in the media -- as they now have.

"Every campaign would have done exactly the same thing. As always, Nikki is determined to keep this campaign focused on the people and issues that matter," Pearson wrote.

Folks declined to say when he would release proof of the alleged relationship. He told The Post and Courier that he is acting on his lawyer's advice.

Folks has said the relationship took place in 2007 before he was married. Haley has been married for 13 years. She has two children.

Haley, a Lexington Republican first elected to the Legislature in 2004, had little to say on the matter as she was leaving the House chamber Wednesday. She brushed off questions on Folks' allegations and said she wouldn't be distracted in her pursuit of the GOP nomination.

Haley, once considered a long shot, said she is "thrilled" by the lead she has taken recently in the four-way race.

Two polls, conducted before Folks' alleged confession was made public, show Haley in the lead against the other GOP candidates, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Attorney General Henry McMaster.

The Post and Courier is seeking access to Haley's state- and campaign-funded phone records and e-mails with Folks, people affiliated with his blog and his consulting company, which Haley hired in 2007 and 2008.

So far, neither Haley nor her campaign have responded to the request, filed under to the state Freedom of Information Act. The newspaper also asked the campaign to provide the records voluntarily.

Haley has made transparency in government a cornerstone in her campaign.

Another request for the disclosure of the records was made to House Clerk Charles Reid, who said Wednesday that no phone records or e-mails are available for public review.

That is for several reasons, he said: The House e-mail system deletes messages after as little as 14 days, state law exempts legislators' correspondence from public disclosure and the House does not provide members with cell phones.

Reid said Haley's office land line shows no record of communication with Folks.

The bulk of the messages Folks released Wednesday are between him and Pearson, Haley's campaign manager.

The records show that Folks alerted Pearson to the fact that media outlets had been asking questions about rumors of an alleged relationship.

Pearson followed up later: "I'm telling you man, we keep this under wraps and nh (Nikki Haley) is going to win."