Group Probes Nikki Haley’s Farmer’s Market Conflict
Another day, another scandal involving S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s questionable pre-gubernatorial employment …
This time, the controversy involves the Republican governor’s previously undisclosed work for Wilbur Smith and Associates, a local engineering firm with extensive business before the state of South Carolina. The extent of Haley’s work for Wilbur Smith – belatedly revealed just hours before she captured the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2010 – is the focus of an ongoing investigation by former S.C. Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) Chairman John Rainey.
It may also be the focus of a separate probe by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Columbia, S.C. – which we’re told has been provided with extensive details of Haley’s dealings with the company.
While those inquiries proceed, another group is now questioning Haley’s Wilbur Smith connection. Specifically, S.C. Conservatives for Truth in Politics (TIP) – a group formed by former GOP official Cyndi Mosteller – is asking Haley to explain her 2007 decision to recuse herself from a gubernatorial veto involving the S.C. Farmer’s Market, a project in which Wilbur Smith was intimately involved.
Liana Orr – a former GOP official and executive director of TIP – wants Haley to explain the reasoning behind her decision.
“TIP would like you to disclose the nature of the relationship that caused you to have to abstain from voting on the farmers market,” Orr asks Haley in a statement. “If not, please disclose why you had to abstain from the vote and place your abstention in the journal.”
The location of the S.C. Farmer’s Market was the subject of intense political wrangling during Haley’s tenure in the S.C. General Assembly – and Wilbur Smith was in the thick of that fight.
After a lengthy political battle, state leaders eventually bailed on a plan to build the new S.C. Farmers Market in Richland County – opting to move it to a location in Lexington County instead. Wilbur Smith and its subcontractors were the lead architects and engineers on the Richland County project – which was scheduled to open in January 2008 at a cost of $40 million. The Lexington facility – which opened last year – wound up costing taxpayers $85 million.
In June of 2007, Haley’s predecessor – S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford – vetoed a funding item associated with the Farmer’s Market project. In a statement entered into the journal of the S.C. House of Representatives, Haley said that she couldn’t vote on the veto “because of a potential conflict of interest.”
Without identifying the company or the specific conflict, Haley’s statement cited an undisclosed “economic interest of myself, an immediate family member, or an individual or business with which I am associated.”
What was the specific “economic interest” that caused Haley to refrain from voting on Sanford’s veto?
The statement published by the former lawmaker failed to specify, merely saying that it could have been due to …
… representation of a client before a particular agency or commission by me or an individual or business with whom I (have been) associated within the past year.
Or because …
… a contract for goods or services may be entered into within the next year with an agency, commission, board, department, or other entity funded through the general appropriation bill by myself, an individual with whom I am associated in partnership with or a business or partnership in which I have a greater than 5 percent interest.
At the time, the public was unaware that Haley was doing work for Wilbur Smith Associates. In fact, that information wouldn’t become public for another three years – when Haley finally disclosed that she had received $42,500 in consulting fees over a three-year period from the firm while she served as a state lawmaker. These fees were not reported on her statements of economic interests – even though the firm obviously had (and still has) extensive business dealings with the state.
In fact, the vast majority of this income ($40,000) was reported by Haley two weeks after the GOP primary election – and mere hours before Republicans voted in a runoff election between her and former U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett.
Haley has always claimed that Wilbur Smith Associates hired her as an accountant, while the company claims it hired Haley because she had “good contacts.”
Sources at the S.C. State House tell FITS that Haley was opening lobbying for the company. In fact, when a prominent S.C. lobbyist approached the firm in question shortly after Haley was hired in an attempt to drum up some business, he was allegedly told by a senior vice president that Haley had their lobbying needs covered.
“What was the business relationship you had regarding someone that could profit from the farmers market appropriation?” Orr asked Haley. “You claim to be the ‘Transparency Governor,’ here is your chance to let the sunshine in.”
Haley received $30,000 from Wilbur Smith in 2007 – just as the debate over the location of the Farmers Market was heating up. That money represented nearly half of her family’s total income that year.
State House sources tell FITS that in addition to lobbying her colleagues in the legislature regarding the location of the S.C. Farmer’s Market, Haley may have also been involved in resolving a legal dispute involving Wilbur Smith and the state.
In fact, Orr specifically asks Haley to state whether Wilbur Smith had “a pending matter before the Department of Agriculture” during Haley’s employment with the company.
Haley’s office, as is its habit, refused to respond to our request for a comment on this story.