Five Republicans and one Democrat cleared Republican Gov. Nikki Haley of wrongdoing June 29 after investigating whether she had illegally lobbied as a lawmaker.
It was the first time the House Ethics Committee investigated a sitting governor.
The setting resembled a trial as the six-lawmaker panel heard nearly 12 hours of testimony in a case to determine whether Haley had benefited financially from her job as a public servant.
“The ethics committee serves in a role similar to a jury,” said the panel’s chairman, Aiken County GOP Rep. Roland Smith, a 79-year-old retired postal worker and minister.
Nikki Haley speaks at a tea party convention in Greenville last spring. File photo
That day, Haley’s defense attorneys, Butch Bowers and Kevin Hall, controlled much of the process and trotted out roughly a dozen executives, officials and lobbyists who claimed to have knowledge of Haley’s business dealings. All said Haley had done nothing wrong.
In a surprise move, Haley herself appeared as the final witness.
Taking the stand, her voice shaking, Haley said she wanted the truth to be known about what she’d done for two businesses that paid her during the time she helped make laws.
“I did not lobby in any way whatsoever for anyone at any time,” she said.
She also had harsh words for her accuser, Republican activist John Rainey, calling him a “racist, sexist bigot who has tried everything in his power to hurt me and my family.”
The case revolved around whether Haley broke any laws as a legislator either by lobbying a state agency on behalf of the Lexington Medical Center hospital, where she earned $110,000 as a fundraiser, or by doing secret consulting work for Wilbur Smith and failing to properly abstain from legislation benefiting the engineering firm. Both occurred during the time she represented Lexington County as a Republican in the House prior to becoming governor in 2010.
Presenting evidence in the case was attorney Ben Mustian, a former House Judiciary Committee lawyer now in private practice. As a non-advocate, it was Mustian’s job to relay the allegations made by Rainey, and direct the lawmakers who make up the committee to portions of the applicable law.
Rainey, who brought the complaint, is a longtime Republican fundraiser who formerly chaired the state’s revenue-projecting Board of Economic Advisers and recruited Mark Sanford to run for governor. He hired the law firm of state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian to represent him in the case.
Haley’s lawyers had subpoenaed Rainey as a witness. But in a masterful play, they never called him to testify, and thus he was kept for 12 hours under sequester in a brightly lit holding room in a first-floor office at the State House complex, unable to hear or view the proceedings.
Those proceedings included testimony from 11 people.
Robert Ferrell said he hired Haley at Wilbur Smith and paid her $48,000 to keep her eyes open for mostly private work the firm might be able to get in on. He said Haley never won them any new contracts, and she was eventually let go. He said she did not lobby.
Lexington Medical Center president and CEO Mike Biediger said he created a $110,000 job for Haley as a hospital foundation fundraiser.
“That was her only responsibility,” he said, adding that she did not lobby or otherwise help the hospital in ways other than anyone else in the Lexington delegation would in its effort to eventually get a new heart center.
When asked about specific meetings he had with Haley that dealt with the heart center — meetings mentioned in emails the ethics panel had obtained — Biediger said he couldn’t recall them. The hospital’s lobbyist Billy Boan also said he couldn’t recall similar meetings.
All in all, no one the committee heard from had anything negative to say about the current governor.
With the hearing over, Rainey emerged from the witness room. Because he hadn’t heard or seen the proceedings, he declined to comment, other than to say the art on the walls of the room where he’d spent the past 12 hours wasn’t very good.
The next day, the committee voted to dismiss all charges against Haley.
In response, Rainey said the hearing was a “shameful farce,” and accused the panel of “harboring a culture of corruption enshrouded in a conspiracy of silence.”
As for Haley’s personal attacks, Rainey pointed to a handwritten letter Haley had sent him days after the only time they’d ever met, which was during her gubernatorial campaign.
In her testimony, Haley said that after that meeting with Rainey, she told her staff she did not want his money or support.
“I will work hard to earn your support and make you proud,” her thank-you note to Rainey reads at the end.
Happy Hour and Sushi Specials All Week
Red Bowl in Lexington now has great early bird and late night sushi specials 7 days a week, as well as 99-cent kids meals on Saturdays! Click here for special information and hours.
Delicious Downtown Breakfast
Tony’s is open for breakfast every day from 7:30-10:30! Conveniently located on Washington St. right off Main. Stop in for something filling and delicious before work! Follow us for updates on specials.
Back to School Tattoo Specials
Magnum Ink is offering 1/2 off all tattoos for students over 18 as well as 2 for $60 on letters or numbers for state employees. 1405 Rushmore Road, Suite B, right off of Broad River.
A two-day outdoor art and crafts show celebrating its 38th year. Being held on September 5 & 6, 2014, Click for details
Accepting Applications for Shakespeare’s Kidz!
Students ages 10-16 are invited to join South Carolina Shakespeare’s new youth company, with classes running September 20th-December 11th followed by a final performance. Learn and hone audition skills, monologues, and scenes from Shakespeare and modern works! Contact Katie Mixon with questions about scholarships and applications: PKatieMixon@gmail.com.
Not Your Typical Greek Restaurant
Ariana’s in West Columbia serves up delicious all-natural, low carb dishes, as well as homemade bread and baklava. Come try the best salad dressing in town! Location info and hours here.
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Pool Cleaning-Full and part time available. Must have a clean driving record, be organized and have a professional appearance. Starting Pay is $10.00 per hr, please call for an interview, please bring a copy of your Driving record and a list of all past employers with duration of employment listed as well as telephone numbers for references. Cal 803-865-1200
Company seeking carpenters, plumbers, masons work is year around with a 40 year old company. Starting pay is $10.00 but experienced individuals will be compensated accordingly. Must have a clean driving record and must bring a copy of your driving record to the interview. Please call 803-865-1200.
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Real Estate Spotlight
Mungo Homes. Celebrating 60 years of our family building for your family. mungo.com