Update: SC Senators Vote To Sell State Planes - WSPA.com

Update: SC Senators Vote To Sell State Planes

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Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, holds documents showing Gov. Nikki Haley's campaign-paid videographer flew with her on the state plane. Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, holds documents showing Gov. Nikki Haley's campaign-paid videographer flew with her on the state plane.

May 17, 2013 Updated at 5:20 a.m.

Senators want to sell South Carolina's two taxpayer-funded planes.

The Senate voted 26-14 on Thursday to insert their sale in the chamber's 2013-14 budget plan. A previous amendment called for a study to determine whether it would be cheaper to use charter or commercial flights.

But Sen. Darrell Jackson argued for skipping the study.

The vote came after Democrats accused Gov. Nikki Haley of misusing the state's planes by taking her campaign-paid videographer with her on flights. Zach Pippin accompanied Haley over 17 days in the last year.

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey says there's nothing illegal about Pippin accompanying Haley to official functions. The state Ethics Commission attorney confirms that.

Godfrey says Pippin films and posts video so taxpayers can see what Haley is doing and hear what she says.

May 16, 2013 Update:

The South Carolina Senate voted Thursday to sell the state's two airplanes after accusations that Gov. Nikki Haley had misused them by taking a campaign staffer on taxpayer-funded flights.

Senators voted 26-14 to sell the planes, inserting the provision into their version of the state budget. The House would have to go along after it gets the Senate's plan.

Democratic senators Joel Lourie of Columbia and Brad Hutto of Orangeburg, along with representatives Mia McLeod and Beth Bernstein of Columbia, accused Gov. Haley of using the planes for campaign purposes by having her campaign-paid videographer go with her on flights.

Sen. Hutto says some of the video that Zach Pippin shoots for the governor is bound to end up in some of her campaign commercials.

"If she wants to film commercials, if she wants to have her videographer be with her, then he needs to pay for his own ticket and bill her for that, or either she needs to pay for it directly out of her campaign account. She is doing neither," Sen. Hutto told reporters Thursday at a Statehouse news conference. "What she is asking the taxpayers of South Carolina to do is subsidize her political campaign when she's got over $2 million set aside to do this. She's using the state airplane as a campaign plane and that is wrong."

Sen. Lourie said, "This smells rotten and we're calling on the governor today to reimburse the state $400 for every leg she has flown her campaign staff around on our state airplane." They say Pippin has flown on 43 flights in the last year, so the governor's campaign should reimburse the state $17,200.

The flight logs and manifests that the State Aeronautics Commission has online, showing who flies on the state's planes, where they go, when and the costs of those flights, do show Zach Pippin as a frequent passenger when the governor flies on state business.

But Haley says he's not shooting campaign commercials, he's showing the people of the state what their governor is doing.

"One thing that was very important to me when we took office was that we make things as transparent as we could," she says. "So that is the reason everything I do every day is videotaped, and everything I do every day is put online." Pippin is paid by her campaign, which saves taxpayers money, she says.

The videos he shoots are on her website, so the public and media can follow what she does, she says.

"We didn't do this until we got approval from the Ethics Commission," she adds. "When the Ethics Commission said there was nothing wrong with it, that's when we did it."

In February of this year, Haley's staff attorney asked the attorney for the Ethics Commission whether it's appropriate for the videographer to be paid for with campaign money, whether it's appropriate for him to travel with her to shoot video of her official public events, and whether there needed to be any reimbursement.

Ethics Commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood replied, "A videographer is a legitimate expense for the governor's office, so it's also a legitimate expense to be paid from her campaign funds."

She also said that, as long as the flights meet the requirement to be official state business, the videographer can travel with her and that no reimbursement should occur.

After Gov. Haley said the videographer did not travel with her until after it was approved by the Ethics Commission, Sen. Lourie pointed out that the email from Hazelwood was dated Feb. 27, 2013, but the flight logs show Pippin was flying with the governor going back at least a year.

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey later clarified that the governor had gotten approval from her staff attorney right after she took office that it was appropriate for the videographer to travel on the state plane. "We re-confirmed it was both legal and appropriate in writing from the Ethics Commission when we heard political antagonists, like Vince Sheheen and Joel Lourie, were trying to make this an issue," he wrote to us after we asked about the time discrepancy.


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