Gov. Nikki Haley has had so many close calls with ethics violations, we would think she would scrupulously avoid any behavior that might even faintly suggest misuse of the public purse.
But she continues to live on the edge, the latest example being the conflict over her use of state vehicles and security officers for a campaign-related trip to North Carolina. She might have avoided the scuffle by simply reimbursing the state the cost of the trip, but instead the matter was sent to the State Ethics Commission for consideration.
And even an apparent exoneration from Ethics Director Herb Hayden didn’t stop the complaints. So, in the end, she ponied up money to cover the expenses for the trip – which is what she should have done in June when the trip occurred.
The reimbursement issue arose after the State Law Enforcement Division confirmed in late August that Haley was in Greensboro, N.C., on June 27 when an agent driving her in a state vehicle crashed into a concrete pole in the road. No one in the car was injured, but the crash brought attention to the fact that Haley had been in Greensboro to attend the first of a two-day fundraiser for Renew North Carolin Foundation, which supports fellow Republican N.C. Gov. Pat McCrorry.
In July, Haley’s campaign reimbursed three state agencies a total of $7,610 for her security agents’ extra costs during out-of-state fundraisers in the fiscal year that ended June 30. But that didn’t include any money for the Greensboro trip that occurred during that period.
Why? Because, according to Haley, it wasn’t a fundraiser for her.
But for an event she claimed was not a fundraiser, she managed to raise a lot of funds. Haley’s campaign collected more than $35,000 from 21 North Carolina residents from June 27 through June 30.
Nonetheless, the State Ethics Commission sided with Haley’s view. Hayden said it was ridiculous to expect any elected official with a public vehicle to go back and calculate mileage or other reimbursements “if they’re out somplace and someone hands them a check.”
But this was 21 people handing Haley a bundle of checks. And earlier this month the government watchdog group Common Cause asked South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to weigh in on whether Haley should pay back the state for the cost of the trip to North Carolina.
State law requires a security detail for the governor. But it also bars taxpayer funds or public equipment from being used for campaign events.
While the speaking engagement in Greensboro might not have been specifially designed as a Haley campaign event, she clearly benefitted financially from it. And she used her status as governor to do so.
This week, Haley ended the dispute with an agreement to reimburse the state. The agreement comes six weeks after news reports surfaced about the trip.
The obvious question is why, as someone who is supposedly politically savvy, did she wait until this incident threatened to erupt into a scandal rather than voluntarily reimbursing the state back in June?