COLUMBIA — A House lawmaker said Tuesday she will propose sending an ethics complaint to the attorney general accusing Gov. Nikki Haley of illegal lobbying while a state representative.
Rep. Joan Brady, a member of the House Ethics Committee, said the case involving Haley before her election as governor has gotten too complicated and the committee “is not in a position to complete a more thorough investigation.” She added that Attorney General Alan Wilson should handle the complaint to uphold the governor’s and the committee’s integrity.
The complaint brought by long-time Republican activist John Rainey alleges Haley illegally lobbied for a hospital and engineering firm while serving as a House member representing Lexington County. Haley has denied the allegations since her successful run for governor in 2010. Documents she supplied the committee Thursday included three affidavits.
“The perception that political forces are at play and that they are potentially impacting our ability to provide an unbiased review and judgment in this case is troubling,” Brady, R-Columbia, wrote in a letter to committee Chairman Roland Smith.
The six-member committee will meet Wednesday. Smith, R-Warrenville, had no comment on the letter, saying the committee will vote on whatever proposal is made.
The committee voted earlier this month to dismiss all charges against the Republican governor regarding her previous jobs as a fundraiser for Lexington Medical Center and consultant for Wilbur Smith Associates.
The 5-1 party-line vote came immediately after the panel unanimously found there was probable cause to investigate. That first vote opened the case to the public.
The back-to-back votes brought an appeal from Rainey that the case go to the full House, as well as a resolution by Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, that the committee reconsider its dismissal.
The committee took up Smith’s resolution May 18 and voted to ask Haley to supply documents backing up her defense – while insisting the move didn’t reopen the case. Haley’s attorneys turned in that packet Thursday.
Meanwhile, Rainey also provided documents reasserting his allegations. A back-and-forth between Haley and House Speaker Bobby Harrell then ensued. Haley blasted her fellow Republican leader, first through her staff and then personally, accusing him of inappropriately meddling in the case and making it political. Harrell vehemently denied that, accusing her of engaging in a public campaign of untruthful distraction. He said he only asked that the committee fully and thoroughly investigate the complaint.
Asked Friday about the prospect of the committee forwarding the case to the attorney general, Haley decried the idea.
“I think they need to be very careful doing that. The right side is the legal side that they dismissed it. If it goes to the AG, it shows it’s been political all along,” she said at her news conference.
Brady said Tuesday she stands by her original vote to dismiss, based on the information the committee had at the time, which consisted of the original complaint, Haley’s response, and a letter from the hospital’s attorney, supplied through Haley’s office.
But the case has gotten more involved, and the committee doesn’t have criminal attorneys or investigators, Brady said.
Some of the technical allegations in Rainey’s complaint include whether she properly reported her employment on her annual “statement of economic interest” forms and whether she properly recused herself on votes. Haley has long said she did.
Brady said she will propose Wednesday officially reopening the case. At the following meeting, she will propose forwarding the complaint to Wilson, also a Republican, saying that will take the politics out of the equation.
Rep. James Smith said if the committee can’t investigate a complaint, there’s no point to its existence.
“The committee has all the state power they need to investigate and fulfill their duties,” he said. “People are going to cry politics no matter what they do. The fact is, they have a duty.”
The panel’s lone Democrat, Rep. Laurie Funderburk, also sent a letter to Rep. Roland Smith, saying she will propose holding a public hearing and issuing subpoenas for sworn testimony.
“Through all these silly political machinations in this process, there has been one – and only one – constant: there has been absolutely zero merit to any of the claims against the governor,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said Tuesday evening.