By Jody Barr
We're three weeks from election day, and the allegations are flying in the governor's race. On Tuesday, Democrat Vincent Sheheen went on the offensive saying Republican opponent Nikki Haley attended a fundraiser organized by a former lobbyist who was convicted of bribery.
"Just days ago, we discovered yet another shocking revelation about my opponent in this race, Rep. Nikki Haley," said state Senator Sheheen.
From the sidewalk outside his Camden headquarters, Sheheen told reporters a convicted ex-Washington lobbyist is helping Haley raise money in her bid for governor. That lobbyist is Jim Hirni, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to bribing congressional staffers two years ago.
According to Sheheen, Hirni organized a Haley fundraiser three weeks ago in Philadelphia. Then the next day, according to Sheheen, Hirni attend a Haley fundraiser in New York City. "What does a corrupt Washington lobbyist do while he waits to be sentenced for bribery?" asked Sheheen. "He goes to work, unbelievably, for Nikki Haley."
We tried several times to have Haley talk about Sheheen's allegations, but Haley declined our requests for an interview. Instead, spokesman Rob Godfrey released this statement: "Vince Sheheen's desperation is starting to get comical - no, as we have repeatedly made clear and as The State reported, there is no truth to yet another false accusation from the Senator."
The article to which Godfrey refers does indeed report that Hirni attended the Haley fundraisers in New York and Philadelphia. It also includes Godfrey's denial that Hirni organized the fundraisers himself. The article does not specifically state Sheheen's allegations are false.
Hirni found his way to South Carolina a year and a half ago after pleading guilty to using his position as a congressional lobbyist to buy legislation. Hirni was part of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, broken up after federal investigators uncovered a network of DC corruption.
Federal court records show Hirni bribed congressional staffers in 2003 with all-expenses-paid trips to the 2003 World Series, chauffeured staffers around New York City in a rented SUV, $400 dinners, and footed the bill for strippers.
Part of Hirni's plea deal requires his full cooperation with federal investigators, including acting as an informant for the feds "...working in an undercover role to contact and negotiate with others suspected and believed to be involved in criminal misconduct..."
As for Hirni's ties to the Haley campaign, Sheheen says he doesn't have any direct evidence. "We know that he was there, that she was there in a fundraiser, out of state in Philadelphia and the same thing the next day in New York."