SC gov's husband wanted wine chiller

The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's husband wanted taxpayer money spent to chill wine, according to a review of documents by The Associated Press.

The documents also show a Haley campaign donor that spent at least $12,043 on her 2010 election was sending first gentleman Michael Haley lists of wine that his company would donate to the Governor's Mansion. And the wine donations were followed by a private reception at the mansion that allowed the company's brass to rub elbows with the governor.

Rob Godfrey, the governor's spokesman, said plans by Michael Haley to create what amounts to a wine cellar were never acted upon.

"First, taxpayer money was not used here," Godfrey said in an email. "The governor's mansion is an old house and sometimes in need of improvements. Like any family, the Haleys talk about potential improvements to the house, but also like any family they often don't go through with improvements when they don't make sense - as was the case here."

A review of nearly 2,000 pages of email and other documents, which were provided under a Freedom of Information Act request, shows the mansion's wine holdings had been growing for months. Mike Sisk, an executive vice president and chief financial officer of Ben Arnold Co., offered lists of free wine to Michael Haley and the governor's executive chef, Geoffrey Sandifer, from which to pick and choose.

Sisk and the company did not respond to messages.

On Aug. 10, Sandifer wrote David Martin, the state's facilities manager, about keeping wine in a controlled environment. "Hey, when you get some time, can we get together and brainstorm how we can get our wine room to actually be air conditioned and humidity controlled? We have a large amount of wine that needs to be in a more suitable environment than in its current un-air conditioned closet," Sandifer wrote. "No rush, just something Mr. Haley brought up and I agreed with. Our other alternative, which probably is more expensive, is to acquire a large wine refrigerator."

Within days of Haley's inauguration in January, Sisk was offering Michael Haley lists of free wine from Ben Arnold. And in July, Sisk offered another round of wine donations to Sandifer.

The donations were followed by an Aug. 15 reception at the Governor's Mansion for Ben Arnold executives.

Godfrey said there was nothing unusual about the donors having an event.

"The governor met with a handful (of) executives from Ben Arnold at the Mansion as she meets with executives of companies all the time - to talk about what South Carolina can do to help them expand here and create jobs," Godfrey said. "There is no connection between the meeting and any wine Ben Arnold has donated to the Mansion foundation, but to be clear: Ben Arnold donates alcohol to the Mansion foundation because the Haleys do not believe taxpayers should cover the cost of it."

State Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said "this is just the latest example of state government for sale."