SC senator criticizes Haley for ethics comment

Gv. Nikki Haley

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley called on senators Wednesday to pass ethics reform, after a Senate Democrat said the Republican governor may only have herself to blame if the bill doesn’t pass this year.

Haley has repeatedly accused Senate Democrats of stalling the reform legislation, which both parties called a priority for 2013, following months of work by study committees in both chambers and a separate panel Haley created. Without a key “second reading” vote Wednesday in the Senate, the measure will carry over to next year.

Senators briefly took it up Tuesday to allow remarks by Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia. They are set to debate it Wednesday afternoon.

Jackson said Haley has politicized a measure that should be bipartisan. He noted in particular comments from her spokesman Rob Godfrey, who following Sen. Robert Ford’s resignation Friday, called Ford “a real-world example of why ethics reform is so important.”

Jackson said he was appalled, and he called the comment insensitive and inaccurate, noting that Ford was hospitalized at the time due to the stress of the allegations and decision to leave his Senate home of 20 years, rather than face expulsion from his colleagues.

“If we leave Thursday and we don’t have a bill, this will be the reason,” Jackson said.

Godfrey dismissed Jackson’s speech, saying it was yet another tactic being used by Senate Democrats to delay the bill.

Haley later issued her own statement.

“The General Assembly will determine whether South Carolinians get better, more honest, more open government,” Haley said. “They will determine whether South Carolinians get to know who is paying their legislators, and whether legislators get to continue to police themselves. This is one of those critical times when we learn who is serious about ethics in government.”

Critics have long called for eliminating House and Senate ethics panels that handle complaints against their colleagues and oversee their campaign filings. The chambers differ on how to overhaul that oversight.

Rather than provide a reason for reform, Ford’s situation shows senators are capable of policing themselves, Jackson said.

“We looked one of our very own in the face and said, ‘You violated the law. There must be consequences,”’ Jackson said. “Even if you had ethics reform, what would have been done differently?”

Ford’s resignation Friday came half-way into the Senate Ethics Committee’s hearing detailing the accusations against him.

Among his alleged transgressions is that he used campaign money at adult stores — purchases Ford explained as gag gifts to volunteers — and to pay bills for his car and home.

Jackson said the committee, on which he sits, did the right but difficult thing in holding the public hearing and finding that Ford committed multiple ethics violations over the past four years.

The case against Ford continues. The committee forwarded it to the attorney general for further investigation. Ford’s lawyer, William Runyon, says Ford’s inadvertent errors are due to his horrible bookkeeping skills.

Jackson said Haley herself, not Ford, prompted the push for ethics reform, noting it followed the House Ethics Committee twice clearing the governor last year of allegations she lobbied for two former employers while a House member. Using campaign cash for personal expenses is on a different level than being hired for your contacts, Jackson said.

“If you want to know why we need ethics reform, perhaps Mr. Godfrey should have gone downstairs and looked at someone he is really familiar with,” Jackson said.

Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin said he’s still optimistic, “if we don’t get too bogged down in the personalities.”

“My challenge is to convince them to rise above the hurt feelings and animosity and move on,” said Martin, R-Pickens.