After 10 hours of testimony Thursday before the House Ethics Committee, Gov. Nikki Haley took the stand and lashed out against a fellow Republican who has accused her of ethics violations, calling him a "racist, sexist bigot."
Haley denied that she ever blurred the line between her legislative duties and her work as a fundraiser for Lexington Medical Center Foundation or as a consultant for Wilbur Smith and Associates.
During the opening statements, a House lawyer laid out the allegations against Haley, which stemmed from a lawsuit filed by GOP activist John Rainey. Rainey alleged that Haley used her position as a state representative to illegally lobby for two of her employers: the medical center foundation and Wilbur Smith and Associates. He also alleged that Haley used her position to solicit charitable contributions for the foundation.
The ethics committee had previously closed the case, but reopened it after it received additional information about Haley's work for the two organizations.
Haley’s lawyer Butch Bowers told the ethics committee during his opening statement, “allegations are not facts.”
“Just because someone says it with conviction, doesn’t mean it’s true,” Bowers said.
During Haley's testimony, she told the committee that she did nothing wrong. Haley said Rainey is making the allegations out of his personal dislike of her.
"Mr. Rainey is a racist, sexist bigot who has tried everything in his power to destroy my family," Haley said.
At issue during the hearing was Haley’s involvement in two business deals when she was a state representative.
While Haley was working on fundraising for the medical center’s foundation on a $110,000 salary, the medical center wanted to open a new open heart center and needed to obtain a Certificate of Need from the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Haley and her lawyer said that Haley’s legislative efforts to secure the open heart center were because the hospital was in her district and was part of her constituency, not because she worked for the medical center’s foundation.
"I did not lobby in any way, whatsoever, for anyone at any time," Haley said during her testimony.
Several witnesses told committee members that they were not aware of any wrongdoing by Haley during her time as a representative in the House from 2005 until she was elected governor.
Several Lexington Medical Center employees, including Mike Biediger, chief executive of Lexington Medical Center, also testified Thursday that Haley never lobbied for the hospital and was hired only as a fundraiser for the foundation.
Tony Denny, a lobbyist who donated to the Lexington Medical Center Foundation when Haley was employed there, testified that Haley did not use her position as a legislator to influence him to donate. Denny said he donated between $500 and $1,000 to the foundation on one occasion because he is a resident of Lexington County and thought that it was a good cause.
The other issue centers on Haley’s part-time consulting work for Wilbur Smith and Associates. While Haley was working for the engineering firm, they had a contract with the S.C. Department of Agriculture to build a state farmers market.
Robert Ferrell, vice president of CDM Smith, formerly known as Wilbur Smith, testified that Haley was paid $42,500 during the almost two years she worked to develop business for the company. Haley was asked to look out for private or county opportunities, but was not expected to secure any state contracts for the company.
In fact, Ferrell said none of the leads Haley brought to the firm led to work for the company. Ferrell also said his company didn’t need to lobby state legislators on the state farmers market issue because they already had the contract. However, the contract ended after a dispute between the Department of Agriculture and Wilbur Smith and Associates over the cost of the project.
While Haley was consulting with Wilbur Smith, one bill came up in the House dealing with the state farmers market, but Haley recused herself from voting, noting a conflict of interest, she said.
"I did what I thought was right," Haley said.
Haley did vote on another bill involving the state farmers market while she was still consulting with Wilbur Smith, but by that time, the firm was no longer handling the farmers market project, Haley said.
Apart from Haley and people who worked with her at the foundation and the firm, the committee heard from people who donated to the foundation when Haley was there, a former S.C. Ethics Commission chairman and a member of the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The committee will re-adjourn at 8:30 a.m. Friday for deliberation.