COLUMBIA — As South Carolina lawmakers mull an appeal of an ethics case involving Gov. Nikki Haley, a state representative asked Tuesday that a legislative panel reconsider its decision to drop charges against the first-term Republican.
“Such serious allegations of ethics violations should not be treated lightly or hastily dismissed without a full and complete vetting of the facts,” state Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, wrote in his resolution.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell referred the measure to the Republican-controlled House Ethics Committee, which will take up the request at a hearing set for 10 a.m. Friday.
Earlier this month, the committee voted 5-1, along party lines, to dismiss allegations that Haley violated ethics rules while representing Lexington County in the House before being elected governor in 2010.
Members unanimously agreed there was good reason to look further into the charges, then voted to dismiss them anyway. Members said they studied the allegations and Haley’s response but took no testimony.
“I found it incredulous that you could look at a complaint and in one breath find probable cause, and with a second, dismiss it without any deliberation. It’s either sufficient to investigate or it’s not,” Smith told The Associated Press. “It gave an appearance that the process was a sham. ... This is about making sure this is done right and she ought to want that, too.”
On Friday, the Republican activist who brought the original complaint, former Board of Economic Advisors chairman John Rainey, asked the full GOP-controlled House to reconsider the case.
It is the first appeal of a House ethics decision since the 1991 law creating the panel, said House Clerk Charles Reid.
Rainey wrote that he filed the complaint “in light of the numerous deficiencies in the Ethics Committee proceeding and the erroneous logic employed by five of the Committee’s members in deciding to dismiss the case ... “
Under state law, the House Ethics Committee handles ethics complaints of current and former House members.
The full House has taken no official action on Rainey’s appeal request. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said Tuesday he is consulting with attorneys. There is no deadline on a decision.
Earlier this year, a circuit court judge dismissed a parallel lawsuit by Rainey, saying such issues were not a judicial matter. Rainey was represented by the head of the state Democratic Party.
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey dismissed the resolution, pointing out that the governor had been exonerated at all levels thus far.
“I think this is a political vendetta that’s gone on too long,” Haley said later. “This is wasting taxpayer dollars. It’s wasting my time. I don’t have any more time for it. I think he needs to take his vendetta somewhere else.”
Rainey’s lawsuit and initial complaint centered on Haley’s jobs as a fundraiser for Lexington Medical Center and as a consultant for an engineering firm with state contracts while she was a state representative. It also questioned the legality of Haley seeking tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists for the hospital’s foundation while legislators were in session and had issues before her subcommittee. It alleged Haley lobbied the state Department of Health and Environment Control on behalf of Lexington Medical, as it sought permission for a new open-heart surgery center.
Haley and hospital officials have repeatedly said her job as a fundraiser – a $110,000-a-year job that the hospital’s CEO created for her in August 2008 – had nothing to do with the heart center.
During a Democratic caucus meeting earlier, House Minority Leader Harry Ott said he hoped the full House would uphold the appeal and refer the case to the attorney general to investigate.
“I have no confidence in sending it back to Ethics. They punted before,” said Ott, D-St. Matthews.
He said Haley, as her defense to Rainey’s complaint, essentially accuses the General Assembly of wrongdoing, and the only way to answer those charges is a full investigation.
“She brought questions into the activities of all of us,” he said. “If there are legislators who are breaking the rules, they need to be exposed. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Democrats or Republican.”
In her summary, Haley’s attorney Swati Patel told committee members that failing to dismiss the complaint outright risks opening a Pandora’s Box, casting allegations on other legislators’ jobs outside the Statehouse.
“Indeed, Gov. Haley’s business activities and conduct are commonplace in the Legislature and were always consistent with the law,” she wrote in the March 30 response. To find otherwise, she said, would “impugn the integrity” of many other legislators and corporate partners.
Associated Press Writer Seanna Adcox contributed to this report.