Exclusive: Nikki Haley Ethics Investigation Will Be Reopened
PANEL COULD CALL WITNESSES AS EARLY AS NEXT WEEK
The rumors are true … the S.C. House Ethics Committee will vote this week to reopen its investigation of Gov. Nikki Haley. In fact, the panel could call witnesses to testify in the matter as early as next week.
Not only that, thanks to a recent rules change approved by the S.C. House, the committee’s deliberations will be conducted in public for the first time ever.
Committee members voted 6-0 earlier this month that probable cause existed to investigate allegations that Haley illegally lobbied on behalf of at least one of her former employers, among other charges. Moments later, however, the committee voted 5-1 along party lines to dismiss those charges on a technicality.
Why are they now reconsidering that decision? Multiple members of the committee are privately telling their colleagues in the House that Haley misled them regarding her controversial 2008-10 employment at Lexington Medical Center. Specifically, several are saying that Haley led them to believe she was exclusively working for the hospital’s nonprofit foundation when she was instead doing lobbying work on behalf of the hospital itself.
Haley’s personal relationship with hospital CEO Mike Biediger has also been called into question.
As we reported a year ago, Haley was never paid by Lexington Medical’s non-profit foundation – she was paid by the hospital itself, which is registered lobbyist principal in the state of South Carolina (and which was pushing for the approval of its new heart center at the time).
“All of our employees – even those who work for the foundation – are paid by the hospital,” a hospital spokesperson confirmed to FITS last May.
“SHE BROUGHT THIS ON HERSELF”
While committee members are upset that they were misled, Republican leaders – including Speaker Bobby Harrell, Ways and Means Chairman Brian White and Majority Leader Kenny Bingham – are reportedly livid that Haley threatened to bring them down in the event an investigation into her pre-gubernatorial activities was launched.
“That was the equivalent of her throwing a live grenade into the S.C. State House,” one Palmetto politico told FITS, adding that “she brought this on herself.”
The decision to reopen the Haley ethics case comes on the heels of an appeal of the committee’s dismissal filed late Friday by GOP fundraiser John Rainey. It’s unclear whether Rainey has the standing to file such an appeal, however the ethics committee can vote to reopen any case at any time it chooses.
In Rainey’s appeal – which was sent to S.C. Speaker Bobby Harrell – “numerous deficiencies in the Ethics Committee proceeding” were cited. The former chairman of the S.C. Board of Economic Advisors (SCBEA) also blasted Haley’s efforts to bully lawmakers into backing off of the investigation.
“Haley’s everyone-is-doing-it defense stains the integrity of this body and all honest public servants,” his complaint states. “The House must reject Haley’s invitation to view this matter through the cynical lens of an influence peddler and make a proper factual investigation to resolve these questions once and for all.”
That investigation is now about to be launched. In fact, sources tell FITS that subpoenas are already being drafted based on a potential witness list provided by Rainey – and that several of the individuals mentioned on the list have already agreed to testify.
Haley has consistently claimed that Rainey is a bitter “has been” who is “fabricating” bogus charges.
“I’m amazed at how naysayers continue to fabricate things to try and create distractions,” Haley wrote on her Facebook page earlier this month. “At some point they will realize I don’t care about their wasted energy.”
But are Rainey’s charges really “bogus?” His compliant – originally filed in Richland County last November – alleges that Haley committed multiple abuses of power during her six years as a member of the S.C. House of Representatives.
Far from being “bogus,” the Rainey case has already produced at least one “smoking gun” related to the allegation that Haley illegally lobbied on behalf of Lexington Medical Center. Haley has also been accused of illegally lobbying on behalf of Wilbur Smith Associates – an engineering firm with extensive business before the state – and failing to report $42,500 in income received from the company between 2007-09.
Wilbur Smith says it hired Haley because of her “good contacts,” but it’s not yet clear exactly what she did for the company. However it has been widely rumored at the S.C. State House that Haley was lobbying for the company.
In fact, one of the individuals reportedly prepared to testify before the committee tells FITS that Haley was participating in meetings that were “exclusively focused” on getting the company paid for its work on the S.C. Farmer’s Market project.
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 Farmers Market, Haley may have also been involved in resolving a legal dispute involving Wilbur Smith and the state.
Haley recused herself from some votes involving Wilbur Smith and the Farmers Market – but not others. Also she never explained her reason for recusing herself.
If the House Ethics Committee determines that Haley traded her influence for personal financial gain (or voted on an issue that directly benefited her financially without disclosing it), it could refer the case to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office as a criminal matter. In fact, Rainey’s appeal asks the House to consult Wilson’s office on whether Haley’s actions were consistent with the law.
As is its custom, Haley’s office refused to comment for this report.