Nikki and the “slush fund:” Belly up to the trough

Have you seen the latest Nikki Haley ad? As I said in a comment yesterday:

Wow. Did you see that incredibly weak, intelligence-insulting ad that Nikki released attacking Vincent?

It’s all about attacking him as a “liberal,” a “Columbia Insider” and a “trial lawyer.

So there you have it: Vincent criticizes Nikki for things that she — an actual, living, breathing woman actually living in South Carolina — has actually done. (You may have noted that the keyword here is “actual.”)

And her response is to throw some of the less imaginative canned, off-the-shelf, standard-issue GOP epithets at him — because, you know, since he’s a Democrat it must all be true, right?

How utterly pathetic. What total contempt she obviously has for the South Carolina electorate.

The only thing Nikki had to offer as a specific, relevant charge in her weak effort to paint Vincent as a tax-and-spend “liberal” was that he had voted to override the governor on the Orwellian-named “Competitive Grants Program” and Nikki had voted to sustain.

Of course, I take a back seat to no one in my disdain for the grants program. Sure, it’s not much money in the grand scheme, but it’s a textbook example of the wrong way to spend, with no regard for state priorities. The local projects the money tends to go to are sometimes worthwhile, but that money should be raised locally.

So bad on Vincent for going along with the majority on that. But Vincent’s voting with the Republican majority while Nikki voted with the minority says more about the fact that Nikki is one of Mark Sanford’s few reliable allies than it does about who is tighter with a buck.

Especially when you consider the following, which the Sheheen campaign was so thoughtful as to share today:

Nikki Haley’s Slush Fund Hypocrisy

Camden, SC – Nikki Haley’s credibility has taken another hit after she released a misleading advertisement yesterday criticizing Vincent Sheheen for supporting a “legislative slush fund,” a fund that she vigorously supported.  Haley requested over $1.5 million in legislative earmarks for her home district from the South Carolina Competitive Grants program but has campaigned boasting of her opposition to the program.

Nikki Haley has been a full-fledged participant in the program, requesting at least $1.5 million in earmarks for special projects in her district and county.  She has sponsored at least twenty-four applications for competitive grants including $90,000 for the Lexington Fun Fest.

After she ran for governor, Haley decided that she could score political points by opposing the program, claiming that she objected to state money funding her local Gilbert Peach festival.  Yet that same year, 2008, she requested at least $160,000 in other projects.

Kristin Cobb, Communications Director for Sheheen for Governor, had this to say: “Once again Nikki Haley has created an even greater level of hypocrisy with her recent attack ad against Vincent Sheheen.  Haley claims she voted against this program but apparently that was because her $1.5 million earmark requests were not approved.  She wasn’t against the program, she was just upset she didn’t get her share.”

“The more South Carolinians are learning about Nikki Haley the less they like.  If we can’t trust what she says on the campaign trail, how can we trust her to be governor,” Cobb concluded.

Here is a sample of Haley’s Earmark Requests:

West Columbia – Sewer Project $370,600
SC Parents Involved in Education $100,000
SC Office of Rural Health $100,000
West Columbia – Riverwalk Expansion $100,000
Newberry College – Nursing Program $99,000
Lexington County – Web-based Tourism $91,099
Lexington Fun Fest $90,000
Lexington County – Industrial Park $80,000
Lexington County – Clean Water Act $77,700
SC Philharmonic $69,274
Alliance for Women at Columbia College $60,000
Healthy Learners $50,000
Brookland Foundation $50,000
Outdoor Journalist Education Foundation $34,450
Killingsworth $30,000
Lexington Downtown Renovation $26,000
SC Office of Rural Health $25,000
Lexington Fun Fest $25,000
YMCA Adventure Guides Program $24,445
Girl Scout Council of the Congaree $21,520
Lexington County Museum $20,000
Lexington – Video Conferencing System $15,000
Lexington County Museum $10,000
Lexington Community Fun Day $3,500
TOTAL: $1,572,588

They also attached this PDF of supporting documents for your perusal.

That assertion about “She wasn’t against the program, she was just upset she didn’t get her share” reminds me of something. Nikki has a habit of being selectively principled — as in, principled when it serves her ambition. For instance, remember the Tweets Wesley Donehue put out a while back about Nikki’s effort to stop the Senate from passing a roll-call vote bill?

Wesley, who works for the Senate Republicans, was pretty insistent about making sure we knew how hypocritical she was on the subject:

Nikki Haley called me last year angry that the Senate filed a roll call voting bill.    about 1 hour ago  via TweetDeck
Nikki Haley told me that she didn’t want the Senate “stealing my issue.”    about 1 hour ago  via TweetDeck
Let me repeat – Nikk Haley asked me to get the Senators to pull the companion bill from the Senate.     about 1 hour ago  via TweetDeck

I haven’t heard Wesley mention this since the primary — since, that is, she has become his party’s nominee. I’m going to be with him on Pub Politics this evening, and will ask him about it…

31 thoughts on “Nikki and the “slush fund:” Belly up to the trough

  1. Doug Ross

    Not good for Haley. Most of those requests are using tax dollars to buy future votes. The entire program should be scrapped. That Sheheen supports it is no better. An equall black mark for both of them in my book.

    Will the Sheheen campaign be providing the list of his requests so voters can see which votes he wanted to buy?

  2. Doug Ross

    Here’s one from 2008 that was actually AWARDED (as opposed to requested). The website doesn’t have the name of the requestor, so if it’s not Sheheen, there’s no way to tell:

    Thoroughbred Retirement
    Foundation, SC Camden
    Second Chances Program – program to train inmates to provide specialized care to horses,
    stable management in the Groom Elite
    Program, etc.

    The 2007 document doesn’t allow cut-and-paste (can’t expect the government to be too up on technology)…

    Actual award: City of Camden $68,000 for historical signs and tourism brochures

    Actual award: Kershaw County – $20,000 for Lego building competition

    reading through the list of actual awards is enough to make me ill. My tax dollars being spent on junk. Things like $87,000 on the Columbia Mayor’s Blue Chip Investor Program to teach kids about investing. That is SHAMEFUL. There are people walking around downtown Columbia without any food or a safe place to sleep and we spent $87 freakin’ thousand dollars on how to teach kids to invest money?

    At some point, Brad, you need to get fired up about this kind of stuff.

    I won’t vote for ANYONE who thinks this competitive grants program is worthwhile. It’s graft, plain and simple.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    I hope enough people wake up in time to stop her! I have my doubts. I fear her contempt for the electorate is well-placed.

  4. Brad

    I DO care about this stuff, Doug, which is why in the past you have seen me headline blog posts about the Competitive Grants Program “SooeeeEEE!” and share lists of what the money was spent on.

    No, I don’t consider it to be as important as how lawmakers vote on major legislation changing the law in big ways or spending billions, but I’ve considered it important enough to criticize it in pretty strong terms.

    You know what one of the worst things about it is? It’s a completely unnecessary instance in which lawmakers give people an excuse to hate and distrust government. There are serious problems in this state that we need a state government to address — our crumbling infrastructure, educational inequities, a totally fouled-up tax system, and much more — but lawmakers throw away the credibility and trust that they need in order to have the political capital to solve those problems, and they throw it away on penny-ante stuff like this.

    We need a Legislature we can trust to make tough decisions on the big stuff, and by doing this stuff — even though it’s not a lot of money — they throw that credibility away for magic beans.

  5. Doug Ross

    Well, Sheheen

    a) supports the competitive grants


    b) says he wants to work with the Legislature

    How likely is it that this terrible program will disappear under Sheheen?

    I’m sure we need more inmates with horse grooming skills, but why should I have to pay it?

    Vote Libertarian if you want real change. Or write my name in and I’ll take care of it.

  6. Kathryn Fenner

    But $30K for Killingsworth–a very worthwhile halfway house for women in my neighborhood, and the extension of the Riverwalk–a gem that benefits anyone who cares to use it and is a strong selling point for the whole region—

    everything on the list isn’t bad by any means. It’s pretending you eschew such things despite hard evidence to the contrary.

    It’s about the hypocrisy!

  7. Brad

    Did any of y’all see me on Pub Politics tonight? I meant to promote it with a separate post, but got involved with ADCO business and didn’t get around to it before showtime.

    I did ask Wesley about Nikki. He was eloquently closed-mouthed about his party’s nominee’s character. (Back off, Jack — he’s a professional!)

    I’ll post a link to it when available…

  8. j

    Was the $99K she requested for Newberry College Nursing Program during the time she was on the payroll of Lex Med Center Foundation? The NC Nursing Program is affiliated with Lex Med Ctr. NC was awarded a competative grant of $45K on June 27, 2008 (see below). Did she sign this $45K grant recommendation or did she solicit another legislator’s signature?

    Since 2008 (which month was she hired?) she has served as the Assistant Executive Director of the Lexington Medical Foundation.
    Previously served on the Foundation Board.

    from “The State”
    “In 2008, she took a $110,000-a-year job with the Lexington Medical Center Foundation, doing event planning and fundraising. She left in April (2010) to campaign for governor full time.”

    From Haley’s Bio on Legislative website

    “Biography:HALEY, Nikki Randhawa [R]–(Dist. No. 87, Lexington Co.)–Asst. Exec. Dir., Lexington Med. Center Foundation; b. 1972.. Bd. of Dirs., Lexington Med. Foundation, 2004-;..prev. serv. in House 2004-10”

    SCB&CB website
    AWARDED – JUNE 27, 2008
    GRANTEE City Brief Project Description Awarded
    Newberry College Newberry
    Partial funding to offset materials startup costs
    for two critical needs programs – Early
    Childhood Education and Nursing

    Nimrata is so un-TRANSPARENT. Did she use her elected office to benefit her other employer or use it to benefit LMC when she was on the Board and to facilitate geting the Foundation Asst. Exec. Dir. job?. She did event planning and FUNDRAISING.

  9. Tracy Horvath

    Right now SC cannot afford any grants. When a for profit business doesn’t make any money, they sure don’t start giving it away. I think that the general public needs to made aware of this pork and so called grants to raise awareness of who is applying for what. Can we (public) find out about these before they are given out? All of the pork/earmarks should be published in local papers as they come up! It is insane!

  10. Doug Ross

    From The State article on this topic:

    “Haley also sponsored at least 15 competitive grant applications totaling $1.2 million, according to a State Budget and Control Board database of grant applications. Sheheen sponsored at least 31 grant applications totaling $6.6 million.”

    So Sheheen has requested five times as much of slush fund money. Yeah, I’m not sure I would make too much of an issue of this if I were him.

    Read more:

  11. Bob

    Competetive Grants are no longer awarded. The Budget and Control Board website states, “Due to budget reductions and restrictions, the Competitive Community Grants Office has been eliminated. Additional applications will NOT be accepted nor further awards made.” My understanding is money left over from the program went to the Department of Corrections.

    The Competetive Grant program was used by legislators to bypass the Governor’s line item veto. I agree many of the grants supported questionable functions, but the grants did fund some important programs.

  12. Doug Ross


    Remember – the items on the list that Brad posted are what Haley REQUESTED, not what was AWARDED. Also, based on the documents provided, it appears that the requests are initiated by the groups and then sponsored by the legislator. So if a constituent group asks its legislator to try and get a piece of the pie, I’m guessing it is not up to the legislator to say no to the request.

  13. bud

    When a for profit business doesn’t make any money, they sure don’t start giving it away.

    State government is not a for-profit business and shouldn’t be evaluated the same way. It really is ok for government to run deficits, especially during hard times. Why is that concept so difficult for folks to understand.

  14. Doug Ross

    @Nick Nielsen

    Yes, I am aware of FIRST. My nephews have been actively involved in the program. It’s value is unquestioned.

    It should not be funded by state tax dollars. Especially in a manner that only awards the dollars to certain schools. That smacks of using tax dollars to buy favors or votes.

  15. Brad

    I’m with Doug on this.

    Plenty of things funded by the grants program are worthwhile. This just isn’t the way to fund them.

    The only sympathy I have for public officials taking advantage of this mechanism is that it’s very hard to get worthwhile local programs funded in other ways. If you don’t have a private-sector benefactor — in other words, if the public sector is the only likely way to fund a particular local public good — then the best way to fund it is on the local level.

    Unfortunately, the Legislature in its infinite foolishness has seen fit to hamstring local governments with strict limitations on how they can tax and spend. This is the Legislature’s way of responding to antitax sentiment — restricting what OTHER governments that they are not elected to run can do. Meanwhile, the local council members have to scrape and scramble to find ways to provide the services that their constituents want.

    Individual lawmakers, trying to be responsive to their local communities, take advantage of something like this grants program as a way of providing what the local governments often can’t.

    This is yet another example of why we need comprehensive government reform, on many levels and in many directions, in South Carolina. Too many forget that the “Power Failure” series I conceived and directed at The State all those years ago wasn’t just about a Cabinet form of government. Yes, the executive branch should be accountable to the elected chief executive. But we also need to set local governments free to be responsive to their communities, scrap and rebuild our tax structure, consolidate school districts (and reform the weird patchwork of ways in which they are governed), put higher education under a board of regents, and do various other things to make our state’s public apparatus more logical, effective and accountable, so that our government stops holding our state back.

  16. Brad

    This, by the way, is a debate I often have with lawmakers and others about things like the competitive grants program. I say we shouldn’t fund things this way; we need comprehensive reform.

    They say, with considerable justice, that they individually are powerless to make all that happen, and in the meantime are trying to do some good using the only tools at their disposal.

    I’m sympathetic to that, while disagreeing with them.

  17. Doug Ross

    Which is why I favor cutting tax dollars first so that we can re-prioritize spending around what is needed. If we don’t do that, they will always find a way to keep spending on pet projects.

  18. j

    Where is the pdf dealing with the competitive grant for Newberry College Nursing Program? Was she in the employment of LMC that sponsors the program with NC at the time?

  19. Ralph Hightower

    Mark Stewart says:
    $370,600 for the Lexington County sewer system? Was that for design fees?

    Hmm, Wilber-Smith does infrastructure engineering. A 12% commission is not bad for Nikki Haley’s “Rolodex”.

  20. Doug Ross


    So apparently you are suggesting that Lexington Medical Center paid Haley $110K to secure $45K of funding for a nursing project?

    Sounds like a pretty lousy investment.

  21. Kathryn Fenner

    Hmm– I guess I thought that a faith-based social service center like Killingsworth would be music to compassionate conservatives’ ears.

    and if the government doesn’t spiff up its properties (the Riverwalk), who should? I have to say that parks and other public spaces are what really makes the difference in quality in a city.

    and we can never cut tax dollars, because politically it’s a ratchet– no politician ever wants to be caught “raising” taxes, even if it’s restoring previous spending levels. You tax hawks have made it impossible to cut taxes, reprioritize and then raise them if needed.

    What about the radio reading for the blind? $120K for the only outlet like it for the state’s 5,000 blind people? The elimination of such a program almost seems like it was designed to elicit an outcry more than to save actual money.

  22. Doug Ross


    I agree. When I saw that article in The State about radio reading for the blind, my first response was “it’s too bad we spent $86K teaching kids how to invest and $50K to teach inmates how to groom horses”. There’s your funding right there.

    As for spiffing up properties, again I say “that is not an issue for state tax dollars”. State parks, sure. Riverwalk, nope. You want a Riverwalk? Use local tax dollars.

  23. Karen McLeod

    If our state government would develop some sense, it might be reasonable to cut taxes and reprioritize. But our legislators are showing no willingness to do the hard work of reprioritization [is that a word??]. Nor are they willing to restructure the tax laws to ensure that there is at least some logic to them. Meanwhile the most helpless get less and less of what they need to become less helpless.

  24. Brad

    It sounds to ME like a word. Fancy one, too…

    The problem with things like this grants program, and the federal habit of earmarking, is that the represent a complete rejection of the very idea of priorities. It becomes a matter of what each lawmaker can get for his own parochial interests.

    Of course, it’s in the nature of people elected to represent districts to be parochial, pretty much by definition. That’s one reason why we need a stronger executive, to counterpoise their fragmenting effect with someone with a statewide constituency, and therefore (hopefully) a more statewide perspective. Only when you look at the whole, and take responsibility for it, can you set priorities.

    That’s why I’ve applauded the fact that Mark Sanford put so much effort into an executive budget that actually set priorities (as he saw them, but priorities nonetheless). If only he had expended a little energy in getting lawmakers — who are always going to have the final say on the budget (which is proper) — to work with him, some of the prioritizing vision might actually have made it into the final documents.

  25. j

    Doug, It’s the ethics and if you’ve ever looked at the SC Ethics Comm Statement of Economic Interests Form that must be completed each year by elected officials, you’ll see the monetary threshold is extremely low. It’s like Everett McKinley Dirksen once saidI (a paraphrase), $42,500 here and $110,000 a year there and after a while it adds up to real money. It’s hard to believe some of your perceptions or comments.

  26. Kathryn Fenner

    $50K to teach inmates a job skill actually needed in SC, a job a guy with a record could get—maybe that’s not so bad–although $50K seems like a lot.

    The investing bit is indeed rather over the top, imho, too.

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