- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley hasn’t properly vetted companies she recruits to South Carolina and has questionably taken campaign contributions from companies while trying to get them to set up shop in the state, independent governor candidate Tom Ervin said Friday.

“We need changes, and when I’m governor, we’ll end this culture of corporate welfare, backroom deals and crony capitalism,” the former judge and legislator told reporters at a Statehouse news conference.

Handing reporters a bound book of criticism of Haley’s economic recruitment history, Ervin questioned her practice of taking money from Nephron Pharmaceuticals - an Orlando, Florida-based company that makes sterile generic respiratory medications. Ervin also said Haley used Nephron’s jet to travel to travel to fundraisers.

State Ethics Commission records show that Haley received a maximum donation of $3,500 from Nephron in July 2011. Three months later, Nephron announced it was building a $313 million plant, with more than 700 jobs, in Lexington County.

At the time, officials said the state would put up $4.5 million into site preparation and infrastructure for the facility, and the company would get tax credits when it creates the jobs it promises.

After The Post and Courier of Charleston reported on Haley use of donor’s planes to travel and raise campaign cash, the Ethics Commission in November 2011 began requiring political candidates to change the way they calculate the value of plane trips provided by donors when reporting campaign contributions and spending.

There had been no rule on how to report flight values, leaving it up to candidates to put their own value estimates on the travel. But the commission unanimously approved rules that require candidates to record the value of flights by the hourly operating costs of planes.

A Haley campaign spokeswoman said all candidates seek contributions from donors that agree with their views or support their successes.

“The governor’s opponents can whine all they want, but the great news for South Carolina is that this year our unemployment rate hit a 13-year low, more people were working than ever in our state’s history, and we have one of the fastest growing economies on the East Coast,” Chaney Adams said. “Every candidate seeks donations from those who agree with their views or think they’ve done a good job.”

Ervin declined to say Friday exactly how much he has contributed personally but did say that, if elected governor, he would not take money from companies during the recruitment period.

Ervin, a Greenville attorney and radio station owner, entered the gubernatorial race this year as Haley’s primary challenger. But he withdrew from the Republican contest days after filing to run, saying he needed more time to introduce himself to voters.

In July, Ervin secured a spot on the November ballot after collecting twice the required 10,000 signatures and has spent nearly a million dollars of his own money to stay relevant in the campaign.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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