House Democrat asks committee to reopen Haley case

Associated Press

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) - As state lawmakers mull an appeal of an ethics case against South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a state representative asked Tuesday that a legislative panel reconsider its decision dropping charges against the first-term Republican.

"Such serious allegations of ethics violations should not be treated lightly or hastily dismissed without a full and complete vetting of the facts," state Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, wrote in the resolution.

Earlier this month, the House Ethics Committee voted to dismiss allegations into whether Haley violated ethics rules while representing Lexington County in the House before being elected governor in 2010.

Members voted that there was good reason to look further into the charges, then quickly voted to dismiss them anyway. Members said they studied the allegations and Haley's response, but they heard no testimony.

On Friday, the Republican activist who brought the original complaint, former Board of Economic Advisors chairman John Rainey, asked the full GOP-controlled House to reconsider the case, the first known appeal in such a case.

Rainey wrote that he filed the complaint "In light of the numerous deficiencies in the Ethics Committee proceeding and the erroneous logic employed by five of the Committee's members in deciding to dismiss the case ... "

Under state law, the House Ethics Committee handles ethics complaints of current and former House members. Last week, the committee voted 5-1 to dismiss all charges against Haley in its first ever review of a governor.

The full House has taken no official action on Rainey's appeal request. Earlier this year, a circuit court judge dismissed a parallel lawsuit by Rainey, saying such issues were not a judicial matter. Rainey was represented by the head of the state Democratic Party.

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey dismissed the resolution, pointing out that the governor had been exonerated at all levels thus far.

"Every court and every ethics committee that has looked at these baseless complaints has dismissed them," Godfrey said. "If the Democrats want to waste more of their time on partisan political games, they can do that."

Rainey's lawsuit and initial complaint centered on Haley's jobs as a fundraiser for Lexington Medical Center and as a consultant for an engineering firm with state contracts while she was a state representative. It also asked whether it was illegal for Haley to seek tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists for the hospital's foundation while legislators were in session and had issues before her subcommittee. It accused Haley of lobbying the state Department of Health and Environment Control on behalf of Lexington Medical, as it sought permission for a new open-heart surgery center.

Haley and hospital officials have repeatedly said her job as a fundraiser - a $110,000-a-year job the hospital's CEO created for her in August 2008 - had nothing to do with the heart center.

On the House floor Tuesday, Speaker Bobby Harrell, D-Charleston, referred Smith's resolution to the Ethics Committee. During a caucus meeting, House Minority Leader Harry Ott said he hoped the full House would uphold the appeal and refer the case to the attorney general to investigate.

"I have no confidence in sending it back to Ethics. They punted before," said Ott, D-St. Matthews. "She brought questions into the activities of all of us. ... If there are legislators who are breaking the rules, they need to be exposed. It doesn't matter whether they're Democrats or Republican."

In her summary, Haley's attorney Swati Patel told committee members that failing to dismiss the complaint would open a Pandora's Box, casting allegations on other legislators' jobs outside the Statehouse.

"Indeed, Gov. Haley's business activities and conduct are commonplace in the Legislature and were always consistent with the law," she wrote in the March 30 response. To find otherwise, she said, would "impugn the integrity" of many other legislators and corporate partners.

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