Democratic gubernatorial nominee Vincent Sheheen has handled 90 workers' compensation cases since 2006, according to state records, earning more than $38,000 from his law firm's clients in 2008 and 2009 combined.
Sheheen, a Kershaw state senator and attorney, last handled a case before the state Workers' Compensation Commission - whose members Sheheen votes to appoint - in October, according to agency records.
How the state's gubernatorial candidates earn their living has become an issue in the race, with both Sheheen and Republican nominee Nikki Haley seeking to restore trust in the governor's office and elected officials.
Haley, a Lexington state representative, has made transparency and requiring lawmakers to disclose their income a foundation of her campaign.
She has characterized Sheheen as a rich trial lawyer and pressed him to release his firm's clients so voters know any potential conflicts of interest. Haley has criticized Sheheen for known possible conflicts, such as Sheheen's workers' compensation work and his role in a $2.5 million class-action lawsuit settlement against payday lenders which could pay attorneys up to $1 million in fees.
Haley has also said - inaccurately - in an interview with Fox News that Sheheen "is a trial lawyer that makes $400,000 a year off the state." Haley, who was paid $42,500 from 2007 to 2009 by an engineering firm for consulting work while a lawmaker, declined to answer questions about her income.
Sheheen said he follows Senate ethics laws - including disclosing his firm's publicly funded clients and recusing himself during budget votes - and there is no conflict of interest for votes on workers' compensation or payday lending legislation.
"Whether it's a lawyer or an accountant or a doctor or an auto mechanic," Sheheen said, "If you vote on a law that has general application to the whole state, then that's permitted."
Sheheen said his Camden law firm handles a variety of services, including criminal law, real estate and workers' compensation cases for both employers and injured workers. Many of the firm's largest clients are insurers, according to the Martindale-Hubbell legal directory.
Workers' compensation cases made up 4.7 percent of his firm's income in 2009 and 8.5 percent in 2008. Sheheen is paid a percentage of the firm's total income. According to Workers' Compensation Commission records, Sheheen represented workers in seven of the last ten cases for his clients in which the commission issued a judgment. Only in cases where the commission issues a judgment are records made public.
Haley's campaign has asked Sheheen to release names of all his law firm's clients. She thinks lawyers should not serve on committees that consider bills related to their clients.
"Doing the right thing would have been to recuse himself from all committee votes that impact workers' comp law and all votes concerning any lawsuits he brings on an industry the Legislature regulates," said Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey.
"It's a direct conflict to accept part of a million dollar settlement by suing an industry he regulates as a legislator. He should absolutely recuse himself from votes, and he should not have been a part of the lawsuit."
Sheheen said he has thousands of clients and would not release them.
University of South Carolina law school professor John Freeman said professional standards prevent S.C. attorneys from disclosing clients without their permission. Sheheen said he has not been paid other than for legal services.
State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said state ethics rules allow attorneys to vote on issues affecting their industry as long as they or their family members do not derive a direct benefit. The state's laws were rewritten after the FBI's Operation Lost Trust investigation of public corruption in the 1990s.
"Sometime it's not a bright line, that's why we have disclosures," Hayes said, referring to the annual income reports that lawmakers and lobbyists file.
Hayes said Haley's proposal to bar attorneys from committees that handle bills relevant to their clients would be impossible in the Senate, where all members serve on either the Judiciary or Finance committees.
Lawyers "couldn't serve on either one of those two committees," Hayes said.
Haley has drawn charges of hypocrisy over her income after a review of her tax records showed she had been paid $42,500 in consulting fees by engineering firm Wilbur Smith.
Company officials said they hired Haley to locate business prospects in Lexington County. Haley was not required to disclose the income on state reports, and did not do so, but subsequently introduced legislation to require lawmakers reveal their income.
Haley has also cast legislative votes on bills impacting her industry. She was a co-sponsor of a 2008 bill, now law, which loosened rules that allowed only certified public accountants to call themselves accountants. Haley lists her profession as an accountant on the campaign trail, but is not a South Carolina-licensed CPA.
Haley's campaign did not respond to questions about her work for Wilbur Smith, including her job duties, which jobs she alerted the company to and whether she approached the firm about the job or they approached her. Haley's campaign also did not answer if Haley currently has a job after leaving her fundraising post with Lexington Medical Center in April.
"Nikki Haley doesn't care about transparency," said Sheheen spokesman Trav Robertson. "If Nikki Haley cared about transparency, she would tell voters what she did for Wilbur Smith for $40,000. She would tell us why she needed to hide that money from public disclosure."