UPDATED: 4:45 p.m.
The state planes are once again a source of controversy.
After Democrats accused Gov. Nikki Haley of using a state plane to transport a videographer for political purposes, the spokesman for the governor said she violated no ethics laws.
Rob Godfrey, citing Cathy Hazlewood of the State Ethics Commission in a February email, said, “A videographer is a legitimate expense for the Governor’s office, so it is also a legitimate expense to be paid from her campaign funds pursuant to 8-13-1348(A).”
Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Richland) who was one of four Democrats at a Statehouse press conference on Thursday morning, said that though Haley may not be in violation of the letter of the law, she was breaking the spirit of it.
Lourie acknowledged that there is some benefit to having a videographer accompany the governor, but taxpayers should not be required to compensate him. Lourie went on to say the videographer’s main functions were political, even if some of his work is posted on government websites.
The Democrats said that the taxpayers should be reimbursed at $400 per leg for the videographer’s trips, which would amount to more than $17,000.
Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg), said it’s time to sell the state plane and proposed an amendment to do so. He said that if state officials needed to use air travel they could charter a plane, which would probably be more cost effective.
The Senate approved a study by the Budget Control Board to look into the cost-effectiveness of having a state plane. Later on Thursday, the Senate voted 26-14 to sell the planes.
In response to the possibility of selling the planes, Godfrey said, "If state officials are unable to use the state plane for official state business, then it's certainly time to look at what we can do with the state plane that better serves the taxpayers - and that includes looking at the possibility of selling it."
ORIGINAL 10:40 a.m.
The state’s airplanes are once again a source of controversy. Democrats are saying that a member of Gov. Nikki Haley's political team has used the state plane for political purposes numerous times over the last two years, which they say is an ethical violation.
At the center of the Democrats’ accusations is Zach Pippin, who regularly travels with the governor, serving most often as a videographer.
According to flight records (viewable here), Pippin traveled by airplane with the governor 17 times on 43 legs between March 2012 and April 2013.
Pippin is listed by the Secretary of State as the licensed agent of Square Circle, LLC, a company that was registered in January 2011, shortly before Haley began her term.
According to records with the State Ethics Commission, Square Circle, LLC has been paid approximately $30,000 in “Professional Services” over the past two years.
Haley signs the bottom of every flight manifest (an example is viewable here), attesting that “the trip is for the official business of the State of South Carolina…”
Democrats say that if Pippin is a political employee then he needs to reimburse the state for use of the plane. Conversely, they also say that if he is on the state payroll he should not be performing political functions while in use of the state plane.
Rob Godfrey, Haley's spokesman told Patch:
"First, let's cut through the entirely political rhetoric that's kicked off this conversation: the Ethics Commission has made it abundantly clear that everything the Democrats are complaining about is both entirely legal and entirely appropriate.
"Second, when she came into office, Governor Haley wanted to make sure every citizen who couldn't make it to an event - and every reporter - could still see for themselves the work she's doing and listen to the questions and her answers. It's always been very important to her to allow everyone in South Carolina who wants to be involved in their government the opportunity to do so with as little hassle to them as possible. To that end, we hired a videographer and, rather than pay him with tax dollars, paid him with campaign funds - just as the law allows."
When asked about the issue, Kristen Sosanie, Communications Director for the SC Democratic Party issued the following statement to Patch:
“Actions speak louder than words and Nikki Haley continues to engage in unethical behavior. She knows the state plane cannot be used for political purposes – she’s even been forced to reimburse the state previously for exactly that reason. This pattern of behavior proves that Nikki Haley won’t let anything – not even laws and ethics – stand in the way of her self-promotion and political gain.”
Last year, Haley was forced to reimburse the state approximately $9,500 after it was discovered she used the state plane to call a series of press conferences with Attorney General Alan Wilson. The reimbursement this time would appear to be much higher if it is determined Pippin was acting in a political role.
Haley also threatened to sell the planes last year. Last week, Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw), her potential rival in the 2014 gubernatorial race, attempted to pass a law that would prohibit the state plane from being used for press conferences or bill signings. Sheheen’s measure would have contradicted that of the Commission on Ethics Reform, which included the following in its final report:
“We believe that the use of State-owned aircraft by government officials for official business such as bill signings and press conferences held in the communities affected by them has legitimate, positive aspects, such as promoting a sense of community.”
The Democrats have scheduled an 11 a.m. press conference at the Statehouse to discuss an amendment to the budget that would prevent misuse of the state plane. Sens. Brad Hutto and Joel Lourie and Reps. Mia McLeod and Beth Bernstein are expected to attend.