COLUMBIA — The House Ethics Committee decided Thursday to hold a public hearing June 28 on allegations that Gov. Nikki Haley illegally lobbied while a House member.
The committee voted unanimously to approve an outline of the unprecedented process, following a closed-door meeting for attorneys’ advice.
It’s unknown territory for the committee, which has never before investigated a governor. Under state law, the House and Senate ethics committees are responsible for handling complaints of current and former members. The state Ethics Commission handles complaints of all other public officials.
After taking the vote, committee members said they are now officially judge and jury and will no longer speak on the case.
“I’ll make no comment until the conclusion,” said Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, the committee’s vice chairman.
The House Ethics Committee chose two lawyers with Willoughby & Hoefer to represent the House in Haley’s case. Attorney Ben Mustian, a former chief attorney for the House Judiciary Committee, said he will act as an impartial presenter. He and Haley’s attorney, Butch Bowers, will take turns giving opening and closing statements, and questioning and cross-examining witnesses.
The process allows no direct participation for the man who brought the complaint, though he’s expected to be called as a witness.
“If that’s the protocol,” said Republican activist and Haley critic John Rainey, “my position in life has been to follow the rules.”
Rainey, former chairman of the Board of Economic Advisors, alleges Haley illegally lobbied in her jobs as a hospital fundraiser and consultant for an engineering firm with state contracts. Haley has repeatedly denied doing anything wrong. She has submitted three affidavits from officials for the businesses saying she didn’t lobby.
“Throughout this unprecedented process, the governor has given whatever information the committee asks for – and more – and she will continue to do so,” said Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey.
The committee voted unanimously last week to reopen the case and take testimony in a public hearing.
That vote came four weeks after they found probable cause that violations had occurred and then immediately dismissed all charges. The back-to-back votes brought an appeal from Rainey that the full House consider the complaint, and a resolution from Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, that the committee reconsider its decision.
The committee members will meet by next Thursday to vote on who they want to testify. That will occur after Mustian and Bowers meet with committee staff to exchange lists of who they want to call as witnesses. No witnesses can be added to the list after Wednesday. Again, Rainey and his attorney, Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian, are left out of the equation.
Chairman Roland Smith will sign subpoenas for those called to testify.
Mustian, Bowers and staff will again meet by June 22 to exchange copies of all exhibits to be introduced at the hearing.