State Ethics Commission Makeup Changed After Nerve Story

July 31, 2013

Investigative Reports

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EthicsA day after The Nerve revealed that two appointees of Gov. Nikki Haley to the State Ethics Commission were serving in violation of state law, the names of the two candidates were removed from the commission’s website, which now lists the seats as being vacant.

But commission officials were still silent Tuesday as to why attorneys James Warren of Greenville and Twana Burris-Alcide of Rock Hill were allowed to serve on the commission this year, even though the S.C. House had not confirmed their appointments as required by state law.

Officials also continue to be mum about whether Warren and Burris-Alcide participated in a July 15 “consent” order in which Haley agreed to pay a $3,500 fine for a reduced list of campaign-reporting violations after more than a year of secret negotiations between her campaign and the commission.

Based on the commission’s latest update to its website, all of the nine commission seats are either vacant or held by members whose terms have expired.

Contacted Tuesday by The Nerve about the now-vacant seats previously listed as being held by Warren and Burris-Alcide, House Ethics Committee Chairman Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, said in a written response he was informed that the Governor’s Office is “going to send us their requests for appointments to the State Ethics Commission so that we can take up the confirmation when we return in January.”

Bingham told The Nerve for a story published Monday that the Governor’s Office “inadvertently sent these last two appointments only to the Senate for confirmation,” and that the House planned to notify the Governor’s Office of “their oversight in this regard.”

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey did not respond Tuesday to written questions from The Nerve about how the governor plans to handle the situation, or whether Warren and Burris-Alcide participated in the July 15 consent order.

Neither Ethics Commission Chairman Phillip Florence Jr. of Charleston, who is a lawyer, nor Burris-Alcide responded to written and phone messages Tuesday from The Nerve. In an email response Tuesday, Warren said, “Please direct all inquiries regarding this matter to either Herb Hayden, Executive Director of the State Ethics Commission, or someone at the Governor’s Office.”

The Nerve on Tuesday sent written follow-up questions to Hayden and Cathy Hazelwood, the commission’s deputy director and chief lawyer, but received no response.

Under state law (Section 8-13-310 of the S.C. Code of Laws), the governor appoints all nine commission members “upon the advice and consent of the General Assembly.” An investigation by The Nerve found that although Warren and Burris-Alcide had been confirmed on Feb. 28 and March 21, respectively, by the Senate, there were no records that the House had approved the candidates as required by state law.

As of Monday morning before publication of The Nerve’s story, Warren and Burris-Alcide had been listed as commission members on the commission’s website. When The Nerve checked the site late Tuesday morning, their names had been removed, and their seats were listed as being vacant.

The Nerve initially reported on July 8 that two of the nine commission seats were vacant, and six others were occupied by members in “holdover” status, meaning that their terms have expired but they can continue to serve in their positions, as allowed by state law. The commission’s website was updated the morning of that story to reflect that Warren and Burris-Alcide were commission members, though Burris-Alcide’s term was listed as having expired on June 30, just a little over three months in length. Warren’s five-year term was listed as having started on May 31, 2010, and expiring on May 31, 2015.

As of Tuesday morning, the website listed four vacancies, including Warren’s and Burris-Alcide’s seats, while the other five seats are occupied by members, including chairman Florence, in “holdover” status. Florence’s term expired on June 30, 2011; another member has been serving in “holdover” status since June 30, 2010, while the terms of the remaining members expired on June 30 of this year, according to the site.

The Nerve reported in Monday’s story that according to commission minutes, Warren attended commission meetings on March 20 and May 15, while Burris-Alcide attended the May meeting. Both also submitted required statements of economic interests to the commission indicating that they had been appointed to the commission.

Both the March and May commission meetings included closed sessions on unspecified matters, according to meeting minutes. In its July 15 “consent” order, the commission found – with Haley’s agreement – that the governor didn’t follow state ethics law dealing with reporting addresses for eight contributors and also failed to report occupations for “several hundred” contributors.

The original complaint, filed in July 2011 by the then-outreach director of the state Democratic Party, alleged that Haley didn’t report required contributor addresses in 45 instances and donor occupations in 2,354 instances, misreporting more than $1.3 million in contributions primarily during her 2010 gubernatorial campaign. After the commission publicly released its probable-cause findings in March 2012, Haley’s campaign staff worked secretly with commission staff over a 15-month period to whittle down the list of violations, the July 15 order shows.

The Nerve will continue to follow any developments in this story.

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