COLUMBIA — A Republican activist Friday asked the full House to reconsider ethics charges against GOP South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, arguing that an ethics panel didn’t do a thorough enough job investigating allegations into whether Haley violated ethics rules while representing Lexington County in the House before being elected governor in 2010.
“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, Appellant hereby files this appeal with the House of Representatives,” John Rainey wrote in a complaint filed with the GOP-controlled House on Friday.
Greg Foster, the spokesman for House Speaker Bobby Harrell, said the Charleston Republican had received the complaint and was reviewing it. Foster also said this was the first known appeal of an Ethics Committee decision.
Under state law, the House Ethics Committee handles ethics complaints of current and former House members. Last week, the committee voted 5-1 to dismiss all charges against Haley in its first ever review of a governor. Members voted that there was good reason to look further into the charges, then quickly voted to dismiss them anyway.
Members of the ethics committee said they studied the allegations, which were also brought by Rainey, and Haley’s response, but they took no testimony in the case. The chairman of the committee said the allegations involved vagueness over what constitutes consulting and sloppy campaign filings.
A day before the decision, the House adopted new rules opening the process to the public once probable cause was established.
The complaint mirrored a lawsuit by Rainey, a former chairman of the Board of Economic Advisors. A circuit court judge dismissed his lawsuit March 21, saying such issues are not a judicial matter.
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 asked whether it was illegal for Haley to seek tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists for the hospital’s foundation while legislators were in session and had issues before her subcommittee and accused Haley 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.
Haley and hospital officials have repeatedly said her job as a fundraiser – a $110,000-a-year job the hospital’s CEO created for her in August 2008 – had nothing to do with the heart center.
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said Rainey has no standing to file an appeal under the newly adopted rule, which only allows people being investigated by the committee – not the person bringing the action against him or her – to appeal.
“John Rainey has already wasted the court’s time and the ethics committee’s time with his baseless political vendetta,” Godfrey said. “He can try to waste the entire House’s time, but he just looks more and more foolish.”
Rainey said he wants the full House to review the Ethics Committee’s findings, arguing that, if the committee didn’t think Haley had done anything wrong, they wouldn’t have voted unanimously to find probable cause.
Rainey also quoted from Haley’s defense in which she described her business activities as “commonplace in the Legislature” and consistent with law. Rainey called on the House to take up his appeal to protect its own integrity, calling the defense “a telling admission of Haley’s belief that she is entitled to use the privileges and responsibilities of her office to obtain financial reward for herself and corporations paying her money.”
“The House must reject Haley’s invitation to view this matter through the cynical lens of an influence peddler,” Rainey wrote.
Rainey also asked the House to open its own investigation, saying that he was limited in his own inquiry into Haley through documents available under open records laws, where the House could issue subpoenas and compel testimony. He even provided a list of suggested witnesses, including Lexington Medical Center officials and a lobbyist for the hospital.