E-mails show threat of hearing prompted pact

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COLUMBIA — E-mails between the State Ethics Commission and Gov. Nikki Haley’s attorney show she agreed to pay a fine and end allegations over donors’ missing addresses only after irritated commissioners nearly took an agreement off the table and called a public hearing.

A consent order Haley signed July 15 resolved a complaint filed by a Democratic Party employee two years earlier. She agreed to pay a $3,500 fine, reimburse the ethics agency $2,000 for its investigation and surrender money from eight donors – totaling nearly $4,200 – to the Children’s Trust Fund. The agreement included a public warning to the Republican governor for not complying with the law.

The combined $9,677 was paid from her 2014 campaign account.

E-mails obtained by The State newspaper and reported on Friday show that Haley’s attorney, Butch Bowers, tried to get the case dismissed or at least resolved without a fine after the commission found probable case in March 2012 that violations occurred.

After such a finding, the next step is a public hearing, unless an agreement’s reached, which is common in ethics cases.

Commissioners initially said they’d agree to a $5,000 fine and $1,000 reimbursement.

“As always, we are willing to work with you, but, like it or not, there have been violations,” the commission’s executive director, Herb Hayden, wrote Bowers in April 2012. “Whether the governor was aware of them or whether they were unintentional, her campaign has not complied with the requirements of the law.”

Bowers then pointed the finger at other candidates, including state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, Haley’s 2010 rival and expected 2014 opponent, who he said had “less-than-perfect compliance” on donor disclosures. Hayden responded that the agency was looking at other candidates.

But over months of negotiations, the commission remained adamant about a fine for the governor.

By June, the commission had grown weary of the delays.

“I’m getting pressure from the commission,” Hayden wrote in mid-June. “They want to know why this has not been signed as agreed.”

Three weeks later, he stepped it up with a deadline.

If the order’s not signed by close-of-business July 10, Hayden wrote, “I will assume all agreements are off the table, and we will be issuing a new Notice of Hearing on the original seven charges.”

Hours before the deadline, Hayden received an email saying the signed agreement was on its way.

The original complaint, filed in July 2011, involved campaign filings that did not show the addresses of 45 donors and the occupations of more than 2,300.

State law requires campaigns to know the names and addresses of all donors before depositing their checks, and to report them as part of their online campaign disclosures. Campaigns don’t have to post donors’ occupations online but must be able to produce them from their own records.

Over the investigation, the commission determined that, while the 45 addresses weren’t reported online when they should have been, Haley’s campaign later found them on file for all but eight donors. The address of only one donor who gave $200 could not be identified by last December. As of the order, the campaign still did not know the occupation of several hundred donors, but the agreement centered on the addresses.

The final agreement says the campaign admits to unintentional and inadvertent errors. It also notes that the $4,177 from eight donors whose addresses weren’t known within the required seven days of receipt represents a fraction of 1 percent of the $3.2 million the campaign received over the three quarters questioned.

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