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SITTING GEORGIA PORTS AUTHORITY MEMBER ALLEGEDLY ATTENDED SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR’S ATLANTA FUNDRAISER

A sitting member of the Georgia Ports Authority attended an October 28 fundraiser held for S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley in Atlanta, Georgia – an event that was held just days before the governor’s appointees to an environmental board gift-wrapped a competitive advantage for his state.

Multiple sources have confirmed to FITS that Atlanta businessman James S. Balloun attended the Haley event – which would obviously be the latest contradiction of Haley’s claims that no one with “ties to the (Georgia) port” participated in the event.

News of the fundraiser was first reported on (and first confirmed) by FITS.

It was not immediately clear whether Balloun gave Haley a campaign contribution at the event, although his name was not among the eleven donors released by the governor’s campaign earlier this week.

James S. Balloun

Balloun, 72, is a retired chairman and chief executive officer of Acuity Brands, Inc. – a multi-billion manufacturer of lighting fixtures and cleaning chemicals. He was appointed to the Georgia Ports Authority board in 2009. Prior to that, he served on a bi-state commission that was supposed to have paved the way for a deepwater port in Jasper County, S.C>

FITS questioned Balloun regarding his involvement in the Haley fundraiser on November 11 but he refused to confirm or deny his attendance, referring us to Haley’s office. Since then, sources close to the Georgia investor say that he “has stopped answering his phone” in light of the scrutiny his involvement with the event has generated.

Last month, Haley’s SCDHEC appointees reversed the agency’s previous decision and granted a controversial environmental permitto the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

That decision – which has prompted outrage from Republicans and Democrats alike – would permit the Port of Savannah to handle larger container ships, thus enhancing its competitive advantage at the expense of the Port of Charleston and effectively eliminating any chance that a deep water port will ever be constructed in Jasper County, S.C. It also guarantees that U.S. taxpayers will be on the hook for Savannah’s expansion – rather than private capital going to fund a Jasper County facility that would create thousands of South Carolina jobs and cause much less damage to the environment.

Haley has been accused of receiving financial and political favors from moneyed interests in Georgia in exchange for her advocacy on behalf of the Port of Savannah – charges she has aggressively defended herself against.

“There were no ties to the ports,” Haley said at a press conference in Columbia, S.C. on Monday.

We quickly pointed out that four of the eleven contributions that Haley has made public came from the law firm of McKenna Long and Aldridge – which has extensive infrastructure and maritime interests. Not only that, one of the firm’s partners – Keith W. Mason – served for seven years on the Georgia Ports Authority board (including two years as its chairman).

FITS interviewed Mason earlier this week, who claimed  that he was not a “participant” in the Atlanta fundraiser.

Alec L. Poitevint

In addition to the alleged fundraiser(s), our sources say that current Georgia Ports Authority chairman Alec L. Poitevint II – a major GOP donor who will select speakers for next year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida – has been negotiating with Haley and her political consultant Jon Lerner to land the governor a coveted prime time speaking gig at the event.

Poitevint so far isn’t denying the claims.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of its reporters “asked Poitevint several weeks ago whether there was any horse-trading to encourage Haley to shift her position.”

Poitevint’s reply?

“She’s a nice lady.”

Whatever the reason, Haley’s position on port related issues has undergone a dramatic shift.

Shortly after her 2010 election, Haley instigated a major spat with Georgia – sending a clear warning across the Savannah River regarding port-related issues.

“You now have a governor who does not like to lose,” Haley told a cheering crowd of S.C. State Ports Authority supporters in Charleston. “Georgia has had their way with us for way too long, and I don’t have the patience to let it happen anymore.”

Last month, though – right around the time that Georgia donors allegedly began stroking checks to her campaign – Haley’s tune began to change.

“Every port is different, and every port has its challenges,” Haley told Savannah’s WJCL/FOX 28 in October. “We have to say ‘What do we need to do that is right for the region?’ Our goal is to make sure every port (in the region) is successful.”

On Thursday, two Democratic members of the Senate Medical Affairs committee – which is investigating Haley’s involvement in the fiasco – called on the governor and her staff to testify under oath regarding their involvement in the mushrooming scandal.

“We keep hearing from the Governor’s Office that they are willing to meet privately to describe their involvement,” S.C. Sen. Joel Lourie said in a statement. “This is hardly transparent from the so-called ‘Transparency Governor.’ The people of South Carolina deserve a full and open accounting from the governor and her staff. They need to testify under oath. If they refuse again, the Medical Affairs Committee needs to do its duty and issue subpoenas and compel them to testify.”

Comittee chairman Harvey Peeler (RINO-Cherokee), the Senate Majority Leader, previously invited Haley and four of her staff members to testify – an offer the governor refused.

In addition to Peeler’s inquiry, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is investigating the issue on behalf of the Savannah River Maritime Commission, which was established in 2007 and granted statutory authority to represent South Carolina in all maritime interests on the river.

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