House Ethics panel re-opens complaint against Haley

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH, AP) - The House Ethics Committee is officially reopening an ethics complaint against Governor Nikki Haley.

The six-member panel voted unanimously Wednesday night to re-visit allegations that the first-term Republican illegally lobbied for two previous employers while she was a state representative for Lexington County.

The vote comes just four weeks after the committee dismissed all charges against the governor. Two weeks later, they moved to request more documents about Haley's employment.

Critics have called the process a "political circus" that has broken down into finger-pointing and accusations.

At one point Wednesday, ethics panel member Rep. Mike Gambrell, an Anderson Republican, argued the ethics committee had been turned into a "political football" that has been fodder for bloggers and has been the subject of conjecture on television.

The chairman of the committee, Roland Smith, agreed but said the panel is committed to sorting out the case.

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"We will we ever be able to satisfy all the folks that's got a political agenda against the governor?" asked Smith. "Probably never. But, we want to be assured ourselves that we've got the facts."

During the roughly 90-minute hearing Haley's attorney Butch Bowers reiterated Haley's argument that she did not lobby for Lexington Medical Center or engineering firm Wilbur Smith Associates. He repeatedly noted three affidavits Haley's office turned in last Thursday from officials representing those businesses.

"This is all a red herring because it doesn't matter who she worked for," said Bowers. "What matters as a matter of law is her conduct. And she didn't lobby."

Bowers also told the panel that many state lawmakers work for businesses who employ State House lobbyists and argued there's nothing wrong with that.

Ethics committee Representative Joan Brady requested that Bowers provide her with a list of lawmakers to whom that issue applies.

After Wednesday's vote to re-open the complaint against Gov. Haley, committee members will now turn in a list of people they want to testify. Members will vote at their next meeting on who they want to appear before them.

Before the committee adjourned, Laurens County Republican Rep. Mike Pitts declared the first witness he would call is Republican activist John Rainey, who filed the original complaint against the governor. Rainey has not been present at any of the ethics panel hearings.

A public hearing will be held within 30 days, something Rep. Laurie Funderburk, the lone Democrat on the ethics panel, said should have happened when the committee first determined there was probable cause to look into the ethics complaint.

"I don't believe it's beating a dead horse. I wouldn't describe it that way. What I belive is that the rule of law prevailed (Wednesday), that we followed what we should have done."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)