Ethics hearing for S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley to begin Thursday

The State (Columbia, S.C.)June 25, 2012 

— Gov. Nikki Haley has made a lot of history as South Carolina’s governor, and she’s about to make more. But it’s not the kind of history that the Lexington Republican, the state’s first woman and first nonwhite governor, could have wanted.

The S.C. House Ethics Committee will start a hearing Thursday to determine if Haley illegally lobbied for her employers while she was a lawmaker. It is the first time a governor has been investigated by the committee.

The Ethics Committee has subpoenaed 11 corporate executives, lobbyists and former government officials for the hearing, as well as documents.

Haley, who has denied any wrongdoing, was not subpoenaed, though her office has left open the possibility that the first-term governor, elected in 2010, might testify. She was interviewed by attorneys representing the committee the day before the subpoenas were issued, but Haley declined to say what they discussed.

“We have turned over anything and everything that they want,” Haley said last week. “It has been an amicable process. And if they want my birth certificate, driver’s license, they can get that too.”

Here is how the case evolved, a look at the main players and what’s at stake, who will testify — and who won’t:

What are the allegations?

It’s alleged that while Haley was a state representative from Lexington County from 2005-2010, she used her office to illegally lobby on behalf of two of her employers — the Lexington Medical Center Foundation, where she was a $110,000-a-year fundraiser, and the Columbia-based Wilbur Smith and Associates engineering firm, where she was paid $42,500 as a consultant.

At the time, Lexington was looking for legislative support to build a heart-surgery center. Wilbur Smith was seeking work on the new State Farmers Market.

Haley also has been accused of using her elected office to solicit donations for her employer — Lexington Medical’s foundation.

What is Haley’s defense?

Haley’s attorneys have said she was representing her Lexington County constituents, not the hospital, on the heart-center issue and was hired to help win county and private contracts for the engineering firm. Haley’s attorneys also have said no rules were broken when lobbyists and companies gave donations to Lexington Medical’s foundation.

Who made the allegations?

John Rainey, a Camden businessman who has called Haley “corrupt” in several interviews. Rainey is longtime GOP activist, who was a major fundraiser for President George W. Bush and was appointed chairman of the state Board of Economic Advisors by Gov. Mark Sanford, Haley’s predecessor and mentor.

Rainey’s attorney is Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party.

Who will decide the case?

The S.C. House Ethics Committee, composed of five Republicans and one Democrat. None of the members are considered major shakers in the Legislature. The chairman is state Rep. Roland Smith, R-Aiken, a retired pastor. Like the attorneys for both sides, members of the committee will be able to ask questions of witnesses.

If the committee finds Haley guilty of violating state law, what is the potential punishment?

The committee could issue a reprimand or refer the case to the S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, R-Lexington, to have authorities investigate to determine if a crime was committed.

Violating laws that ban legislators from lobbying can carry a fine of up to $2,500 for each violation and a year in prison. Violating laws that prevent legislators from using their office for personal gain can carry a fine of up to $5,000 for each violation and a year in prison

Haley has 10 days after the committee’s ruling to appeal to the Republican-controlled House, according to state law.

How long will the hearing last?

Smith has said two days. Questioning of each witness is limited to 140 minutes — 60 minutes each for direct and cross-examination, and 10 minutes each for redirect and re-cross-examination. Attorneys will have 20 minutes each for opening and closing statements.

Hasn’t this case been decided already?

The committee found probable cause of violations on May 2 but voted to dismiss the case. But it requested more information a couple of weeks later and reopened the investigation on May 30.

Who has been subpoenaed, and what are they expected to discuss?

The subpoenas were compiled from lists submitted by attorneys from both sides.

• Rainey is expected to discuss the evidence that he gathered to file the ethics complaints against Haley and his motives.

• Also: Mike Biediger, chief executive of Lexington Medical Center; Dan Jones, the hospital’s board chairman and vice president of government relations for Time Warner Cable in South Carolina; Thad Westbrook, a former Lexington Medical board chairman and current vice chairman of its foundation; and former state Rep. Billy Boan, a lobbyist for the hospital.

Their testimony could clarify whether Haley worked for the hospital or its foundation, her role in helping the hospital win support for the heart-surgery center and whether those actions were lobbying, and her work for the foundation in soliciting donations from legislative lobbyists and the companies that they represented — some of which had business before House committees on which Haley was serving. Jones already has submitted to the committee an affidavit that Haley did not work or lobby for the hospital.

• Robert Ferrell, vice president of CDM Smith, is expected to testify on Haley’s duties with CDM Smith’s predecessor company, Wilbur Smith. He also could testify on any state contracts that the company won while Haley was employed as a consultant and whether she was a lobbyist for the company. Ferrell also has submitted an affidavit that Haley was not a lobbyist for the firm.

• Duncan McIntosh, general counsel at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, and James D’Alessio, the insurer’s vice president for government affairs, could testify on why that company made donations the Lexington Medical Center Foundation and any communications it had with Haley.

• Earl Hunter, former state Department of Health and Environmental Control commissioner, could testify on Haley’s efforts — if any — to win support for Lexington’s heart-surgery center, an issue before the agency.

• Tony Denny, a lobbyist and former S.C. GOP executive director, has been asked by the committee for any documents about contributions to the hospital’s foundation and his communications with Haley.

• Greg Harris, former S.C. Ethics Commission chairman, is expected to share his views on state lobbying laws. (Along with Haley’s attorney Butch Bowers, Harris was a member of the legal team that represented then-Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, who resigned earlier this year and then pleaded guilty to violating state ethics laws.)

Who’s been asked for documents, and which documents?

• Wilbur Smith, now CDM Smith : Contracts with the S.C. Department of Agriculture, related to the State Farmers Market from, 2004-10 and the S.C. Department of Transportation from 2007-09.

Lexington Medical Center and its foundation : Haley’s employment records; her communications about contribution requests, any legislation before the General Assembly between 2007-10, and the heart-surgery center application and review; her communications with DHEC and the S.C. Health Planning Commission; and foundation tax forms and expenditure records. Also, contribution records from 2005-12 by Time Warner Cable, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, Comporium, Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative, AT&T, Check into Cash, Advance America, Michelin, Bank of America, Bristol-Myers-Squibb Foundation, the S.C. Credit Union League, Tony Denny and Dan Jones.

• BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, Time Warner Cable and lobbyist Tony Denny : Correspondence from 2007-10 about Haley and solicitations to contribute the Lexington Medical Center Foundation.

• The S.C. Legislature’s printing, information and technology systems : Emails from Haley’s legislative account from 2006-10 about Lexington Medical Center and its foundation. State House officials have said they do not hold onto emails longer than 180 days.

Who wasn’t subpoenaed?

There are several notable omissions.

• Haley. Calling a sitting governor to testify was going to be tricky constitutionally, due to the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. But some expected Haley to be on the witness list since the case involved her actions in the House.

• Larry Marchant, who was a BlueCross lobbyist when Haley was in the House and could testify about Haley’s solicitation of donations to the Lexington Medical Foundation from that insurer. Marchant’s attorney, David Haller, said last week that he expected a subpoena after speaking with one of the attorneys representing the House, Ben Mustian. Marchant also has claimed to have had a one-night fling with Haley, which she has denied.

The committee asked Lexington Medical’s foundation for information on contributions made by 13 companies and individuals, but formally requested documentation or testimony from only four donors — BlueCross, Time Warner, Jones and Denny.

What about the other nine? Four companies — Michelin, AT&T, Comporium and S.C. Credit Union League — said last week they have not heard from the committee.

The Ethics Committee might have limited the subpoena list to keep the hearing to two days, Thursday and Friday. Its intentions — like the reasons for not having Haley testify — are unknown since the committee members slapped a gag order on themselves immediately after they issued the subpoenas.

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