News Column

Michael Haley's Facebook Post Not a Violation

June 27, 2012

Andrew Shain

First gentleman Michael Haley did not violate federal rules when he posted comments on Facebook comparing the deaths of three S.C. soldiers in Afghanistan with the state Senate's failure to vote on one of his wife's pet political proposals, the head of the S.C. National Guard said Tuesday.

Adjutant General Robert Livingston said he spoke Tuesday with Haley, a civilian technician with the Guard and a lieutenant with a medical corps unit, about why he wrote the post. After a review of rules about federal and Army personnel making political comments, Haley returned to work, Livingston said.

"I understand that he was expressing some frustration," Livingston said, noting Haley had met disabled soldiers on the day he wrote the post. "He has the right to make these comments."

Asked what he thought of Haley's post, Livingston said: "I don't think anything compares to the loss of our soldiers."

Livingston said he would use the attention drawn to Haley's Facebook post to remind Guard members about the rules on using social media for political purposes.

Haley can endorse a candidate or support a political position on Facebook as long as it is not done on work time or a work computer and does not include a mention of his official federal or military position, said Ann O'Hanlon, spokeswoman for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. That office oversees the Hatch Act, which regulates how federal employees engage in political activities.

Livingston said he was visiting Monday with relatives of the three members of the Timmonsville-based 133rd Military Police Company who were killed by a suicide bomber when he received a message from state Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, after Haley's Facebook post.

Knotts, who has butted heads with Gov. Nikki Haley, a fellow Lexington Republican, asked Livingston if Michael Haley's comments violated federal law. Knotts said he also was concerned about other political comments Haley had made on Facebook.

This year, Michael Haley has posted links to his wife's endorsements of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and S.C. congressional candidate Tom Rice. Michael Haley also called for an ethics review of state legislators after Gov. Haley's ethics case before the S.C. House Ethics Committee was reopened.

Shortly after the Senate adjourned last Thursday without a vote on a government reform bill that his wife favors, Michael Haley posted: "It amazes me that in a week that we have heroes who have died fighting for our freedoms, we have cowards who are afraid to take a vote in the (S)enate."

An expert in the Hatch Act said he did not think Haley crossed the legal line -- though he questioned the post.

"The two don't have much to do with each other," Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor and former White House associate counsel from 2005-07 under Republican President George W. Bush, said of Haley's comparison of the soldiers' deaths and the Senate's inaction. "It's a defect of logic but not an ethics issue."

But Haley's post is an issue to some senators.

State Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, a retired Air Force and Guard fighter pilot and general, demanded Monday that Michael Haley apologize to the slain soldiers' families.

Gov. Haley did not say Tuesday whether her husband would apologize for his remark. Instead, she defended the post, which she said her husband wrote while on a two-week training session in Texas.

"He is a person. He is a citizen. He has the right to get frustrated," Haley said at a news conference. "What I hope people do is put themselves in our shoes. What you saw was a husband who watched his wife for years try to move this state forward. And what he saw that day was the establishment stop a two-year tax-funded initiative that would make South Carolina better."

Gov. Haley has been pushing for a Department of Administration to replace the State Budget and Control Board, a move that would give her more control over state government. But the restructuring proposal did not come up for a vote on the final day it could be considered because of political wrangling in the Senate.

"He (Michael Haley) knew how important that day was to me, my staff, to the state, to the country that was watching whether we were going to get restructuring," Gov. Haley said. "So you tell me how a husband, who just lost three of his fellow members in the military, who had just had dinner the night before with a double amputee who has been in therapy for two years, is supposed to feel when he sees that kind of action happen at the State House."

Maj. Gen. Livingston said he wants everyone to keep the three soldiers who died, and the five others who were wounded, in mind in what has become a political battle.

"I don't want their sacrifice to get lost in this discussion," Livingston said.

Source: (c)2012 The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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