Either officials from the S.C. Ethics Commission jumped the gun last week or a North Carolina trip by Gov. Nikki Haley gives stronger credence to the need for ethics reform in our state.
On Aug. 20, news broke that Haley had been a passenger in a minor car wreck in Greensboro, N.C. The trip made headlines across the state because the wreck, oddly enough, actually took place in late June.
The unreported fender-bender drew even more attention because Haley used her state-owned vehicle to travel to the Tar Heel state, piquing the interest of the Ethics Commission.
Haley was attending a $5,000-per-person retreat on June 27 sponsored by supporters of N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, which according to the Charlotte Observer, was expected to “draw 100 to 150 corporate representatives and wealthy donors.”
The trip to North Carolina proved worthwhile for Haley, particularly because of her interest in being re-elected in 2014. According to campaign finance filings, Haley collected about $61,000 on June 27 and June 28, including $34,500 from North Carolina-based organizations, companies and donors.
Consequently, Cathy Hazelwood, the attorney for the state Ethics Commission, told The State newspaper that she would send a letter to Haley’s campaign asking it to reimburse the state for providing the governor with a security detail on a campaign fundraising trip.
The real head-scratcher is that the Ethics Commission director then essentially said nevermind later in the week and told Haley she would not have to repay the state.
Perhaps the agency was being too presumptive in their initial response. At the time, Haley was technically not an announced candidate. She would officially announce her candidacy on Aug. 26.
However, the two passengers riding with Haley on her North Carolina trip were likely members of her re-election campaign, and she came back with thousands of dollars in cash. Also, the director of the Ethics Commission is appointed by the governor, raising questions about the independency of our state’s ethics watchdogs.
Currently, the only determination about Haley’s actions would come from someone filing a formal complaint with the commission, an at-times lengthy process that has received bipartisan criticism.
The last ethics complaint against Haley was extended over 14 months and ultimately saw the governor pay a $3,500 fine.
There are still reasonable questions to be answered about the trip, but given the current system, we may never know the whole story.