Chumley Says He Will Fight Ethics Allegations

December 18, 2013

Investigative Reports

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Rep. Bill ChumleyS.C. Rep. Bill Chumley will finally get his day in court before the House Ethics Committee – two days before Christmas.

While the 10-member committee was meeting behind closed doors for several hours Tuesday afternoon on an unrelated ethics case, Chumley’s attorney said he was notified by his law firm staff that the committee had scheduled a hearing for the Spartanburg County Republican on Monday at 9:30 a.m.

“We wanted to handle it today, but that did not work for Rep. Chumley,” Rep.  Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington and the committee chairman, told The Nerve in a written response after Tuesday’s meeting. “Next Monday works for Rep. Chumley and I can get a quorum to conduct the hearing because the attorneys don’t have court.”

“We’re anxious to get the matter concluded, and we’ve been anxious since June,” Chumley’s attorney, Reese Boyd, told The Nerve Tuesday afternoon.

As of last week, Chumley’s case was on the agenda for Tuesday’s committee meeting at the Blatt Building on the State House grounds, but it was removed from the agenda Monday after Bingham said Chumley had requested a hearing, which typically involves witness testimony.

Bingham told The Nerve in a written response Monday night that the Ethics Committee can “take action without conducting a hearing,” noting, “Generally speaking, hearings are only conducted when there are facts that are in dispute.”

“Based on my discussion … with counsel for the committee, we requested a hearing on a timely basis,” Boyd said Tuesday, though he declined further comment.

Chumley told The Nerve on Monday he was not notified that his case was taken off Tuesday’s agenda. Asked Tuesday about an upcoming hearing, he replied, “I’m going to fight this as long as I can because I’m not going to say I’m guilty of something I don’t believe in my heart I’m guilty of.”

The Ethics Committee on Nov. 26 found probable cause that Chumley, elected to the House in 2010, might have violated state ethics law by authorizing the use of a state plane to bring George Mason University economics professor Walter Williams to testify March 20 at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on a bill sponsored by Chumley.

That legislation (H. 3101) is aimed at preventing the implementation in South Carolina of the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

A formal ethics complaint against Chumley, dated June 3, was filed by Thomas Davies of Woodruff – Chumley’s Democratic opponent in the 2010 House election. Chumley filed his written response to the complaint on June 20, though he told The Nerve on Tuesday it was his understanding under House rules that he couldn’t discuss his case publicly until after the Ethics Committee issued a probable cause finding.

“Members of my family didn’t even know about this,” he said.

The Nerve on Friday examined Chumley’s case in-depth, based on documents provided last week by the Ethics Committee. The Nerve’s review found that:

  • Davies, who is not an attorney, cited a state law (Section 8-13-765 of the S.C. Code of Laws) as the basis of his complaint – the same statute relied on by the Ethics Committee in an advisory opinion issued less than two weeks before Davies’ complaint.
  • The advisory opinion – considered the official position of the committee – said Section 8-13-765 “prohibits the use of government resources for political purposes.” But the law doesn’t actually use the phrase “political purposes”; instead it reads more narrowly, “No person may use government personnel, equipment, materials or an office building in an election campaign.”
  • The Ethics Committee in its advisory opinion found that the “use of the state airplane to transport witnesses for testimony before legislative subcommittees” might violate Section 8-13-765. But in a March 20 letter to Chumley, committee attorney Emma Dean reached the opposite conclusion, writing, “Therefore, it is the opinion of the Ethics Committee staff that you would not be committing a violation of the South Carolina Ethics Act by requesting the state plane be used to transport a witness to a subcommittee meeting.”

“I guess I could have done it without checking with anybody,” Chumley told The Nerve on Tuesday, citing Dean’s March 20 letter to him. “I wanted to be sure there wasn’t any ethics problem. I honestly was clear in my mind that there was no problem.”

Chumley said he asked Williams to testify at the March 20 hearing because he thought Williams “would be the premier witness on this.” Chumley’s bill passed the House this year but remains in the Senate.

“He would have been my first choice in the country, and I got my first choice,” Chumley said. “I don’t know that we would have gotten it done (passing H. 3101 in the House) without him. I think he was the turning point on this.”

Asked about critics’ claims that he wasted taxpayer money by using a state plane for an out-of-state witness, Chumley replied, “It was well worth the investment of $6,500. … When we get this done (enacting H. 3101), it’s going to help the people of South Carolina. We’re looking at jobs and the freedom we should have.”

“We’re seeing now what a terrible bill Obamacare is all the way around,” he added.

The Ethics Committee spent most of Tuesday afternoon in a closed session debating the case of Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, who faced the committee in a Nov. 26 hearing on allegations that he might have misused campaign funds.

Besides Bingham, other committee members include: Reps. David Weeks, D-Sumter and the committee vice-chairman; Mike Pitts, R-Laurens and the committee secretary; Chandra Dillard, D-Greenville; Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester; Elizabeth Munnerlyn, D-Marlboro; Tommy Pope, R-York; Ronnie Sabb, D-Williamsburg; Murrell Smith, R-Sumter; and Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston.

Asked Tuesday if he believed he was being targeted in part for political reasons, Chumley replied, “The thought has crossed my mind, but I hope not.”

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.