- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 10, 2012

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The State Ethics Commission has opened a public inquiry into Gov. Nikki Haley’s campaign finances and has set a July 18 hearing date, officials told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

The allegations are detailed in a complaint obtained by the AP and confirmed by Herb Hayden, executive director of the commission.

The complaint accuses Mrs. Haley of failing to maintain proper records of donors’ occupations. It also says the Republican didn’t disclose addresses for six campaign contributors.

Candidates are not required to report their donors’ occupations but must be able to furnish a list if requested, Mr. Hayden said. Contributors’ addresses are needed in case their identities need to be verified, he said.

Mr. Hayden said Haley campaign staffers have been able to nail down addresses for all but two of the contributors. Hundreds of donors’ occupations are still missing, he said.

The July 18 hearing will be similar to a trial, at which a panel of three commissioners will hear arguments from both sides and then determine if laws were broken. If so, Mrs. Haley could face possible fines up to $14,000 — $2,000 for each charge.

The investigation is the latest in a string of ethics queries surrounding the first-term Republican governor. Last month, a circuit judge dismissed a lawsuit accusing Mrs. Haley of breaking ethics laws while she was a legislator, saying such issues should be handled by either state ethics officials or a legislative panel.

Mrs. Haley has said she would not waive confidentiality to any legislative ethics investigation.

A spokesman for Mrs. Haley‘s office referred comment on the ethics commission investigation to campaign attorney Butch Bowers, who couched the complaint as a political stunt by state Democrats, who initiated it.

“These are routine matters that occur with virtually every candidate,” Mr. Bowers said, “and the only reason a complaint was filed against Gov. Haley was because she won.”

State Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said South Carolina residents will have no faith in the state’s laws if their own governor breaks them without consequence.

Mrs. Haley‘s predecessor, Republican Mark Sanford, paid $74,000 in ethics fines — the largest in state history — after the commission reviewed his use of state planes, campaign cash and first-class travel.