In yet another piece of news that shouldn’t actually surprise anyone familiar with South Carolina politics, the Republican-controlled House Ethics Committee has ended their investigation into whether Gov. Nikki Haley illegally lobbied for her employers during her time as a state representative. The committee’s five Republicans voted in favor of dropping the ethics charges, overruling the one Democrat on the panel who voted to continue the investigation.
Gov. Haley immediately trumpeted the committee’s ruling on her Facebook page, attacking the lone Democratic holdout and calling the allegations a total fabrication. But nothing was actually fabricated, considering the ample evidence of Gov. Haley’s potential violations was contained in Republican power broker John Rainey’s original lawsuit against the governor. Democrats argue the violations were simply whitewashed by a GOP-dominated committee loyal to Haley.
“What happened today was nothing more than a political exercise in Republicans protecting Republicans,” said Rep. Boyd Brown (D-Fairfield), who has led on ethics reform for over a year. “Today’s ethics committee decision proves that we need to either have equal party representation on the House Ethics Committee, just like in Congress and the state Senate, or give control to the State Ethics Commission.”
But Gov. Haley’s own defense to the Ethics Committee seems to undermine her claim that the allegations were nothing but “made-up nonsense,” as her spokesman put it. As the Free Times’ Corey Hutchins reports, Gov. Haley’s defense of her actions essentially amounted to the position that “everyone else does it too, so it’s okay.”
According to a copy of Haley’s defense obtained by Free Times, the governor’s lawyer wrote on March 30 to the chairman of the House Ethics Committee that was investigating her that Haley’s “business activities and conduct are commonplace in the Legislature.”
The lawyer also wrote, “To find otherwise would not only impugn the integrity of many other members of the General Assembly, but also that of many of South Carolina’s best corporate partners: Blue Cross/Blue Shield of South Carolina, Michelin, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and several others.”
It’s difficult to see how the governor’s position that under-the-table lobbying and influence-peddling is “commonplace in the Legislature” could be a valid excuse for the extracurricular activities she engaged in as a state lawmaker. If anything, her statement indicates that the State House has an even bigger corruption problem than we thought.
In addition, it’s quite telling that the governor would name Blue Cross/Blue Shield first on that list. Palmetto Public Record has extensively reported on the insurance company’s deep influence on South Carolina politics, having spent over $4.75 million on lobbying in the past year:
So far the group has given $56,473 to Sen. Lindsey Graham, $51,100 to Rep. Joe WIlson, and $31,250 to Rep. Tim Scott. BCBS is Rep. Trey Gowdy’s all-time largest supporter with $19,394 in donations, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s second-largest with $19,500. Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Jeff Duncan seem to have missed out on all that BCBS campaign cash, but have nothing to worry about as their campaigns are largely bankrolled by the ultra-conservative Club For Growth.
BCBS spending on South Carolina politicians is even more widespread in the State House, according to State Ethics Commission records. The group gave $7,000 to Gov. Nikki Haley’s 2010 campaign, and hands out $1,000 contributions among the General Assembly like Santa on Christmas.
As we reported back in January, companies like Blue Cross/Blue Shield pour money into South Carolina elections for one reason only: to protect and extend their business interests thorough favorable legislation and influence from the lawmakers they control. And with today’s explicit endorsement of such activities by the governor and Republican-controlled House Ethics Committee, why should they stop?