Gov. Haley cleared of ethics charges

Published: May. 2, 2012 at 3:22 PM EDT
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Governor Haley has been cleared of ethics charges.
Governor Haley has been cleared of ethics charges.

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley has been cleared of charges she violated ethics laws while a member of the South Carolina House.

The House Ethics Committee voted 5-1 Wednesday to dismiss all charges against the governor, following an investigation of more than a month.

The panel voted unanimously that there was a reason to look into the allegations that she violated ethics rules while representing Lexington County before she was elected governor in 2010.

But there is not enough evidence to conclude that Haley violated those rules, said Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Lexington, who made the motion to dismiss the charges.

"We don't want a witch hunt," said Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, the committee chairman.

Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk, the only Democrat on the panel, voted against dismissing the charges.

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey praised the decision.

"We commend the House for doing its job seriously and professionally. Once again, we've seen another in a long line of made-up nonsense claims against Governor Haley found to be meritless."

Haley is focusing on improving the state's economy and reforming state government, Godfrey said.

The complaint stemmed from a lawsuit by long-time Republican activist and former Board of Economic Advisors Chairman John Rainey, accusing the Republican governor of violating ethics rules. A Circuit Court judge dismissed the lawsuit in March, saying such issues should be handled by either state ethics officials or a legislative panel.

Under state law, the House Ethics Committee handles complaints of current and former House members.

Rainey's lawsuit and subsequent complaint to the ethics committee 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.

Haley's campaign said in 2010 there was nothing improper about asking lobbyists to donate to a charity. Her office has called the accusations a baseless political stunt. Rainey's lawyer in that case is Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian.

The panel did instruct its staff to come up with guidelines for consulting work by lawmakers.

It marked the latest ethics investigation into a top South Carolina officeholder.

Former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned in March, hours before being indicted and pleading guilty to violating ethics laws. He had already paid a $48,000 civil ethics fine for using money from his 2010 campaign to pay for personal items.

Former Gov. Mark Sanford paid a $74,000 ethics fine - at the time the largest in state history - after investigations by The Associated Press and other media into Sanford's travel and campaign practices after he acknowledged an affair with an Argentine woman in 2009.

Just yesterday, the House voted to change its rules to open up its ethics investigations if probable cause is determined. House Republicans said after Tuesday's unanimous vote the change had nothing to do with any particular person.

The resolution that took effect immediately conforms House rules for investigations into its current and former members to those for the state Ethics Commission.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.