COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley personally accused the leader of the South Carolina House of meddling in an ethics investigation of her, a day after her staff made the same charges.
He fired back by calling it an untruthful distraction, stopping just short of calling her a liar.
The first-term governor blasted Speaker Bobby Harrell in a news conference Friday, saying he’s giving orders to the Ethics Committee staff and made the case political.
Harrell said it’s simply not true. Repeating his spokesman’s earlier comments, he said he asked only that the committee thoroughly investigate the complaint against Haley. He said the request came after the case became public.
“The governor is misleading the press and trying to distract the public from what is a very serious matter,” he said in a statement. “Given the governor’s claim that there is no validity to these charges, combined with the extreme measures and false accusations now being employed by Gov. Haley – One can only wonder why?”
Round two of the back-and-forth between the two Republican heavyweights came after Haley’s office turned over documents the committee requested last week.
The complaint brought by Republican activist John Rainey accuses Haley of violating ethics law by illegally lobbying for a hospital and engineering firm while she was a House member representing Lexington County. She has denied the charges since her successful gubernatorial campaign in 2010.
The committee dismissed them earlier this month, immediately after finding probable cause to investigate them. That first vote opened the case to the public.
The back-to-back votes brought an appeal by Rainey, former chairman of the state Board of Economic Advisors, that the case go to the full House, as well as a resolution from Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, asking the committee to reconsider its decision.
He noted the committee looked at only three documents before voting to dismiss. Those three documents were the complaint, Haley’s response and a letter from the hospital’s attorney, supplied by Haley. Smith told the committee it should use its subpoena powers.
The committee took up Smith’s resolution last Friday. While it denied assertions the votes made the process appear a sham, it voted unanimously to seek employment documents from Haley and Lexington Medical Center to back up her defense.
They specifically said they were not seeking more information from her other previous employer, Wilbur Smith Associates.
On Monday, committee staff called Haley’s office to request employment documentation from the engineering firm, too.
Haley said Friday the dismissal should have been the end of it. A dismissed case has never been reopened and legally probably can’t be, she said.
“The ethics committee did their job. They did a thorough investigation. They looked at everything,” she said. “What should have been a legal process has suddenly turned into a political one.”
Haley’s office turned over the documents Thursday.
Her packet includes three affidavits from officials with her previous employers saying she did not lobby.
Haley earned more than $42,000 in consulting fees from Wilbur Smith, a firm with state contracts, between 2007 and 2009. She worked as a hospital fundraiser between August 2008 – when the hospital CEO created the $110,000-a-year job for her – and April 2010, when she negotiated a severance agreement of $27,200, plus $8,000 for more than three weeks of unused vacation pay.
One allegation is that she lobbied on the hospital’s behalf for its application for an open heart center. Haley contends her work on that was on behalf of constituents, not an employer. On the charge she solicited donations from lobbyists with matters before her subcommittee, she’s repeatedly said there’s nothing wrong with asking a lobbyist to donate to a charity.
Robert Ferrell, vice president of Wilbur Smith’s successor firm CDM Smith, said Haley was hired to bring in private-sector and county business, not state work. Fred Johnston, chairman of the hospital foundation, said the foundation is separate from the hospital, no foundation employee did lobbying work, and that Haley received no bonuses for donations.
Dan Jones, a long-time lobbyist who became chairman of the Lexington Medical Center board last year, said he’s unaware that any employee of the foundation had work duties outside of the charity, and that Haley “was not engaged to perform lobbying work on behalf of the district.”
“These are well-respected people. I’ve given everything possible. It was dismissed based on fact. It was brought back up based on politics,” Haley said. “I’m governor now whether people like it or not. Let me do my job.”
Meanwhile, Rainey also provided the committee a packet of documents in which he reasserts his allegations.