South Carolina Governor Enjoyed Benefactors’ Clemson Football Suite While Pushing Ethics Reform


Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) at a Clemson football game (Credit: AP Photo/Rich Glickstein)

Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) at a Clemson football game

Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) at a Clemson football game (Credit: AP Photo/Rich Glickstein)

Under fire for receiving cash and gifts from a tobacco executive, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) apologized this week for the embarrassment he and his family brought to his state. But he is not the only governor who has allowed wealthy benefactors to lavish him with generous gifts. According to her disclosure forms, Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of tickets and suites at sporting events over the past two years — much of which came from people with interests before the state.

Haley, who was elected in 2010, is an alum of Clemson University. In her mandatory 2012 and 2013 Statements of Economic Interests, she reported receiving hundreds of gifts, large and small. The most significant items were disclosures of a dozen people identified as “friend/supporter” providing her with access to their Clemson Football Suites — a benefit worth more than $58,000 over two years.

Many states prohibit interested parties from giving gifts to elected officials or cap gifts at a nominal maximum. South Carolina law does not, though it does state that no one may “directly or indirectly, give, offer, or promise anything of value to a public official, public member, or public employee” with the intent to influence their official responsibilities.

Six of Haley’s benefactors are members of Clemson’s board of trustees. They include David E. Dukes, John “Nicky” McCarter Jr., E. Smyth McKissick III, William C. Smith Jr., Joseph D. Swann, and the board’s chairman, former Speaker of the South Carolina House David H. Wilkins (R). Since Haley took office, Clemson has benefited greatly from its alum. The university relies on state funding for about 10 percent each year. After several years of declining state revenue, Clemson received a several-million-dollar increase after she took office, and appears poised to receive another significant boost for this coming year. While the university has not gotten everything it wanted from her administration, she provided the university with another key perk: she repeatedly loaned her state plane to Clemson’s president and its football recruiters — a practice that ended only after state legislators objected.

The controversial McCarter had another reason to help the governor: he is president of Defender Services, Inc., a Columbia, SC-based staffing company that calls itself a “national leader in outsourcing services.” Defender Services has received more than $300,000 worth of state contracts from the South Carolina government since Haley took office.
And as a state representative, Haley voted for McCarter’s 2010 reappointment to the Clemson board of trustees, as well as Swann’s.

Two others — Dukes and Wilkins — are partners in Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, a prominent lobbying firm. Nelson Mullins received a $60,000-a-year contract extension with the state in March to provide federal lobbying services for Coastal Carolina University. In fact Wilkins himself appears on the firm’s federal lobbying disclosure form as one of the two lobbyists handling the contract.

Haley’s other gifts included a $1,700 basketball ticket from health care magnate Vivek Garipalli, a $2,500 painting from artist Jeffrey Callaham, and $100 in earrings from a benefactor listed as “unknown.”

No stranger to ethical controversy, Haley ironically has made ethical government and reform a major push for her administration. This year, she pushed a bill she said would “determine whether South Carolinians get to know who is paying their legislators, and whether legislators get to continue to police themselves.”

In a speech in May, Haley declared:

Never has there been a time where the people of South Carolina wanna see [SIC] ethics reform. Never has there been a time where the people of South Carolina deserve to see ethics reform. Never has there been a time where elected officials are gonna be held accountable and we’re gonna see that happen… We need to show the people of the world that we don’t have issues in South Carolina, that we are not afraid of ethics reform, and that we’re gonna pass a strong ethics reform bill this year.

While there is no evidence that they violated South Carolina’s lax ethics law, it’s hard to believe that the suites did not provide these people with both access to the governor and goodwill from her that the average South Carolinian would not enjoy.

Cameron Davis is an intern for ThinkProgress.