COLUMBIA -- As the reported list of trips by Gov. David Beasley aboard private planes grows, some legislators are rising to his defense. Though they have advised him to stop flying on planes owned by businesses with connections to the state, they do not see any ethics violations.
Mr. Beasley said this week he and his campaign will repay more than $13,800 to businesses and individuals that provided him free travel.
The Republican Governors Association, which he heads, also will pay for corporate planes he flew to its meetings. Those trips included two new ones reported Thursday aboard planes owned by drug company Eli Lilly -- one with other governors to Grand Rapids, Mich., in November 1996 and one trip alone to Miami last November.
Though Eli Lilly will be reimbursed, the planes were donate to the governors association and not to Mr. Beasley, RGA Executive Director Clinton Key said.
Democrats want an ethics investigation. The Republican governor who is seeking re-election maintains he has done nothing wrong, and many members of the Senate and House Ethics committees agreed. One of them, Sen. Warren Giese, R-Columbia, accused critics of stirring up trouble.
"There doesn't seem to be a violation of the law," Mr. Giese said. "If the law is lived up to, then the governor should be protected from this sort of thing."
Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, said Mr. Beasley "wouldn't intentionally do anything wrong." But he counseled his longtime friend to avoid any appearance of wrongdoing.
Because Mr. Beasley reported the trips on his annual financial disclosure form, "it lessens any implication of impropriety," said Hartsville Sen. Ed Saleeby, a ranking Democrat on the Senate Ethics Committee.
But "it's getting close to corporations that do business with the state. And that's the danger of the thing," said Mr. Saleeby, an attorney.
The issue came to a head this week with word that Mr. Beasley flew to Chicago on a Waste Management Inc. Lear jet for an RGA meeting this spring.
Waste Management subsidiary Chem-Nuclear Systems runs the state-owned landfill for low-level nuclear waste in Barnwell County and wants state fees lowered on shipments to the site. Mr. Beasley has resisted a change.
Senate Majority Leader John Land, D-Manning, asked Republican Attorney General Charlie Condon to open a statewide grand jury investigation. Condon spokesman Robb McBurney said the matter was under review.
The proper place for such a complaint is the State Ethics Commission, Beasley spokesman Gary Karr said. Citing confidentiality rules, Gary Baker, the commission's executive director, would not say whether a complaint had been filed.
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