COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley urged legislators Wednesday to send her an ethics reform bill that restores public trust in government, while Democrats and the director of a government watchdog group called on Haley to lead by example.
The Republican governor issued a warning, saying she will publicly expose any lawmaker who opposes the bill.
"If ever there was a time for us to do this it is now," she said. "If there is a legislator who blinks, who stalls, who tries to avoid or hijack any part of this, that is a red flag that will be exposed. ... We will make sure we cross this over the finish line."
A Senate version of a bill that passed the House in May will be up for debate on the Senate floor when the Legislature returns in January. Haley said she'll travel the state over the coming weeks to push for its passage.
Key to the public confidence, she said, are provisions that require lawmakers to disclose their income sources and end the practice of legislators investigating their colleagues. Under the bill, the House and Senate ethics committees would no longer be in charge of ensuring their members fellow state ethics laws. A revamped state Ethics Commission would conduct the investigations.
However, the legislative panels would still decide on any punishment.
"If you don't know who pays your legislator, then you don't know why they're voting the way they are. We want to take the conflict of interest out," Haley said.
The state Democratic Party blasted Haley as being a hypocrite.
In 2012, the House ethics committee twice cleared Haley of allegations she violated ethics law while representing Lexington in the House. Charges included that she did not disclose her work as a consultant for an engineering firm with state contracts. The House panel, as well as the state Ethics Commission, agreed that state law didn't require her to do so.
After clearing her, legislators pledged that ethics reform would be a priority for 2013. If they don't pass legislation next year, when Haley is seeking re-election, the process starts anew.
"Nikki Haley arguing for ethics reform is like Lance Armstrong lobbying for better doping regulations," said Democratic Party spokeswoman Krisin Sosanie. "She is a prime example of why South Carolina so badly needs ethics reform, and her lip service is astoundingly hypocritical."
Haley said she speaks from experience.
"What I have done from Day One is said whatever gray area there is in state government, I want to make it in black and white so no other governor has to go what I've gone through," she said. "My commitment going forward is, any issue that is gray we're going to make it work for the people of this state."
John Crangle, the director of Common Cause, said if she wanted to lead by example she would pay taxpayers back for a trip to North Carolina in June.
Her campaign said she didn't need to reimburse the state for her security detail because the event was not a fundraiser for her, but rather for a group advocating the agenda of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory. Ethics Commission director Herb Hayden agreed, saying that her receiving donations during the trip didn't make it a fundraiser for her.
South Carolina law requires a security detail for the governor but also bars public funds or equipment from being used for campaign events.
At Crangle's request, Democratic Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg sent the attorney general's office a letter Wednesday seeking an opinion on when the governor needs to reimburse the state.
"She needs to fill in the gray areas of her own behavior by overcompensating," Crangle said.