Ethics Reform – Not So Fast

Want Ethics Reform – Fire Ethics Commission Head

By Paul Gable

A good first step toward ethics reform in South Carolina would be to fire S.C. Ethics Commission Executive Director Herb Hayden.

Last month, Richland County Circuit Judge Alison Lee approved a consent order ruling Hayden propagated a “falsehood” to a state ethics watchdog agency and in responding with a falsehood violated the Freedom of Information Act.

As part of the settlement, Hayden and the ethics commission maintained the falsehood was inadvertent and unintentional.

The lawsuit, brought by the S.C. Public Interest Foundation, centered on responses by Hayden to September 2013 FOIA requests by The Nerve, regarding a letter sent from ethics commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood to Gov. Nikki Haley telling Haley to reimburse the state for costs of travel for Haley and her campaign staff to a fundraising event in North Carolina.

Hayden later overruled Hazelwood’s request for reimbursement essentially stating the trip was not to a fundraising event but to an official event at which campaign funds were raised.

(You have to drink the Columbia water to understand that difference.)

In responding to the FOIA request, Hayden’s story went through several iterations. He initially said there was no letter. The next day Hayden changed the story to the letter was destroyed, both hard copy and electronic copy. A third iteration also claimed there was only an unsigned, draft letter produced.

However, in November 2013, The Nerve received a copy of the letter signed by Hazelwood from Haley attorney Butch Bowers.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave…”

To top off this story, Haley, Hayden and SLED chief Mark Keel later signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” outlining under what conditions Haley would be required to reimburse the state for campaign trip expenses. There is absolutely no provision under state law for such a Memorandum of Understanding.

Haley has consistently said she supports ethics reform including strengthening the state’s ethics law.

Her actions have run counter to her statements, but we have come to expect that.

If Haley really supports ethics reform, let her demonstrate her intentions by firing Hayden who, regardless of court documents, but considering the conflicting statements appeared to be attempting to circumvent the FOIA law.

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