The Republicans may not like it. The Democrats may not like it. But the 2010 gubernatorial race comes down to one thing and one thing only: Did Nikki Haley have an affair with Will Folks? It's an issue the Haley camp has addressed poorly.
Shortly after Folks made his claim on May 24 on FITSNews that he had an inappropriate physical relationship with Haley, the candidate took a page out of the Sarah Palin playbook, saying that a mysterious and malicious "them," the good ole boy establishment, had witnessed her rise in the polls and attacked, hoping to do whatever they could to defeat the anti-establishment gubernatorial candidate. In fact, on the day that Folks posted his allegation, Haley responded by saying that "this disgraceful smear has taken form less than a week removed from the release of a poll showing our campaign with a significant lead." Haley added that it was "quite simply South Carolina politics at its worst."
She also spoke to Greenville talk radio station WORD, stating once again that her rise in the polls was the reason for the attack. According to Talking Points Memo, Haley said, "They didn't care who I was a month ago, and suddenly it turns out I'm 11 points high in the polls, and all of a sudden, we've got anonymous secret e-mails going out and we've got this attack today. And I don't expect the attacks to stop. They do what they think they need to do to win, which is to bring other people down."
The problem: Haley's camp knew that a story about the affair allegations was in the works four days before the very poll was conducted in which Haley vaulted from last place in the gubernatorial race to first, according to text messages released by Folks on FITSNews. The publisher of that story, the Columbia alt-weekly the Free Times, is hardly a tool of the good ole boy network.
Free Times reporter Corey Hutchins had been looking into the affair rumors for approximately a year when he spoke to Will Folks on May 13. On that same day, Folks was communicating regularly with Tim Pearson, Haley's campaign manager. Pearson and Folks talked about the buzz concerning an impending story, and, during one text, Folks let Pearson know that the Free Times was behind the investigation. The next day, May 14, Sarah Palin held a rally publicly endorsing Haley. Three days later on May 17, the poll putting Haley in the lead for the first time was conducted.
Over the next six days, between May 17 and May 22, Pearson and Folks discussed the impending article in text messages, alternatively speculating that no such article would come out and worrying that one would. At the time, both appeared to believe the Haley camp and Folks himself were being attacked on two fronts — on one side by the press and, on the other, by the Gresham Barrett campaign. For most of the 2010 election season, U.S. Rep. Barrett and Attorney General Henry McMaster were the two leaders in the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Trailing them were Haley and Lt. Gov. André Bauer.
The Barrett campaign later denied any such involvement, according to reports, even though staffer B.J. Boling was rumored to have been privy to an alleged confession from Haley herself, according to the Free Times and text messages posted on FITSNews.
In the text messages, Folks comes across as clearly worried. Pearson less so — at least as long as there was no affidavit from either Haley or Folks. If anyone else came forward with an affidavit, Pearson said it would be "a tough sell."
On May 24, Will Folks made his so-called confession on his website and kicked off a media storm the likes of which we hadn't seen since, well, Folks' former boss and Haley's mentor Mark Sanford announced that he had an affair with an Argentinian woman. The Haley-Folks story garnered both national and international attention.
In his May 24 post, Folks offered little to no details. In hindsight, it appears as if he thought the impending Free Times story or the one that Jim Davenport from the Associated Press was rumored to be working on would reveal plenty of unsavory details. The silence left many wanting more. But Folks did not go into specifics. That is until last week.
On Oct. 12, Folks released an affidavit at the request of the Conservatives for Truth in Politics, an anti-Haley group of Republicans, providing new details about his alleged affair with the gubernatorial candidate.
In the affidavit, Folks claims that in 2007 he and Haley "shared [their] first kiss while sitting in her parked car outside of MacDougall's restaurant and bar" in Columbia. Following the kiss, the pair allegedly drove to a "parking lot behind the neighborhood center at Emily Douglas Park, where [they] parked for approximately 45 minutes." Folks claims, "There we slid back the seats of her Cadillac SUV so that Rep. Haley could climb on top of me."
Folks also claims that following that encounter, he saw Haley numerous times during spring 2007, with most of the encounters taking place at his downtown Columbia apartment. He also claims that other "romantic encounters occurred in [Haley's] SUV (including one in the parking lot of the S.C. Policy Council) and in her Statehouse office."
According to the affidavit, Folks alleges that he and Rep. Haley also went out in public several times, and that the pair's relationship was known by a friend.
Folks claims that the relationship with Haley ended in June 2007. In the affidavit, he alleges that he ended the physical relationship with Haley because he began dating his now wife, Katrina. Previously released phone records from Folks show that he and Haley spoke 17 times between June 2 and Aug. 30, 2007. An Aug. 25 incoming call was received by Folks at 2:24 a.m. and lasted 146 minutes. Most of the other calls were made after 10 p.m. Eleven lasted longer than one hour, with an Aug. 7 call lasting 180 minutes.
After the alleged physical relationship had ended, Folks claims that he and Rep. Haley continued to exchange "numerous e-mails and text messages." In the affidavit, the blogger claims he "deliberately deleted these messages at the time because [he] had failed to honestly answer [his] wife's questions about [his] relationship with Rep. Haley."
According to the affidavit, Folks claims he and Haley exchanged texts on Jan. 3, 2010, and that these texts "referenced [their] prior relationship."
Following the release of the affidavit, Pearson once again dismissed Folks' claims. "These accusations weren't true in June, they aren't true now, and those who continue to be fixated on this nonsense really should look into getting some professional help."
But is it all nonsense?
The evidence released so far has been either of a he-said, she-said variety or circumstantial — records of long and lengthy late-night phone calls between Haley and Folks and the text messages between Folks, Pearson, and SCGOP Marketing and Technology Director Wesley Donehue. Without a videotape, a stained dress, or in the words of Corey Hutchins, a "smoking dick," many are reluctant to believe that Haley had a relationship with Folks, even with the addition of Larry Marchant's June 2 claim that he had sex with Nikki Haley at a 2008 conference in Salt Lake City. On Oct. 15, 2010, Marchant released a signed affidavit of his own.
However, lately more and more Republicans have turned against Haley. First, influential GOP figure John Rainey asked a U.S. attorney to investigate Haley for work she had done as a consultant for Wilbur Smith Associates and for money she received as a fundraiser for the Lexington Medical Center Foundation, both jobs that took place while Haley was a sitting representative. And then former SCGOP vice chair Cyndi Mosteller wrote a fairly scathing column urging Haley to address the allegations. Following that, Mosteller formed the anti-Haley Republican group, Conservatives for Truth in Politics, with Clemson University political science professor and consultant Dave Woodard, a personal friend of Barrett and Sen. Jim DeMint. Since then Republican political consultant Jeffrey Sewell of Sewell Consultancy and the website SCHotline has turned against Haley and SCGOP head Karen Floyd. On SCHotline, two red Xs cover the faces of Haley and Floyd. When we spoke to Sewell, he said that he believes both women have lied about the affair allegations. A group called Republicans for Sheheen has formed as well, starting a Facebook page and printing bumper stickers.
Clearly, something about Haley bothers these diehard Republicans. Some might say it's the fact that Haley, a champion of transparency, didn't disclose that she was paid $42,500 to serve as a consultant for Wilbur Smith. Or that she earned $110,000 as a fundraiser for the Lexington Medical Center Foundation, a salary reportedly 63 percent higher than the top salary for those in similar positions at similar-sized firms, according to The State. Or that she had previously claimed that she amicably left Lexington Medical, when recently released e-mails suggest otherwise. Or her inability to pay her taxes on time again and again and again. Or that Haley refuses to release her legislative e-mails from the time period during which Will Folks claims their affair took place.
And once again, we're back to the affair allegation, the one issue that more than any other causes Republicans and undecided voters to question whether or not they will cast their vote for Haley in November. The Haley camp has said they will consider legal action after the election.
Will Folks has shown us his affidavit. Will Nikki show us hers?
When Will Folks announced to the world on May 24 that he allegedly had an affair with Nikki Haley, many were shocked, but perhaps none more so than Free Times reporter Corey Hutchins.
"I woke up in the morning, turned on my computer, and was looking at the news, and I saw that he had confessed to having an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki Haley on his website," Hutchins says. "At that point, it made publishing what we already had a whole lot easier."
For approximately a year, Hutchins had been investigating rumors about an affair between Haley and Folks, and a story about the allegation was close to publication. With Folks' claim on the internet, Hutchins updated his story, and the Free Times put it online.
As Hutchins reported in the May 24 Free Times story, rumors about a sexual relationship between Haley and Folks had been circulating for several years. Other sources we spoke to acknowledged they had heard about the rumor long before Folks' allegation was posted on FITSNews.
Hutchins says, "There were people saying publicly back in 2007 or 2008 that Nikki Haley's car was parked outside of Will Folks' house. Now, those were things that I heard back then. But there are all sorts of rumors around the Statehouse all the time."
He adds, "At the time I understood that he was working for her, and that he worked out of his house and that was his office. So maybe that's why her car was there."
Indeed, Haley had hired Folks, who in addition to running FITSNews also runs the political consultant firm View Politik. Folks was hired to replace B.J. Boling, who left Haley's side to work for the John McCain campaign. By 2008, Boling was a part of the Gresham Barrett camp.
Given that Folks worked for Haley out of his home office, Hutchins dismissed the rumors. "At the time, I didn't think too much of it."
Later, a source told Hutchins that Folks had reportedly confessed to him about an alleged affair with Haley. Hutchins began to investigate in earnest. "I asked around. And the more people I spoke to about it, the more confident I became that the source was reliable," he says. "And it wasn't just one source, it was multiple sources."
Hutchins also remembered a 2008 phone conversation he had with Haley and one later with a political insider who Hutchins declines to name. During the interview for a routine profile piece on Haley, who was running for re-election in the state House of Representatives, Hutchins asked the candidate about her relationship with Folks. According to Hutchins, Haley immediately became defensive.
Many politicians use Folks' services, but they do not like to acknowledge that they do because of negative opinions about him and his website. Critics believe Folks traffics in half-truths, innuendo, and outright lies. He's also widely followed by politicos and political junkies. All of which, of course, can make him quite useful. Hutchins says that he chalked up Haley's defensive behavior to being associated with Folks professionally.
But now Hutchins sees it differently. In fact, it's the conversation that he had with a political insider immediately after his 2008 interview with Haley that stands out. In the phone call, which reportedly took place minutes after the reporter ended the call with Haley, the insider, whom Hutchins declined to name, allegedly asked the Free Times reporter what he asked Haley to get her worked up. Hutchins then ran through the list of questions he asked Haley, all policy stuff. Hutchins then says the political insider asked him if he had said anything about Folks. Hutchins said he had and then explained what he asked. The political insider reportedly sounded relieved. And Hutchins was left a little dumbfounded, wondering what he had said to put Haley apparently on the defensive.
Of the dozen or so sources that Hutchins recalls talking to, he says that not all of them had heard a confession directly from Folks that he had a physical relationship with Haley. Wesley Donehue, communications and political director for the S.C. Senate Republican Caucus and the marketing and technology director for the SCGOP, says he also heard Folks' accusation firsthand. At the time, Donehue says he believed Folks, but now he does not.
When Hutchins was asked if he had spoken with sources who had reportedly heard from Haley herself about an alleged affair with Folks, Hutchins says, "I really can't get into that too much." He adds that he had received enough information to believe that she had told people.
One such person that Hutchins confronted was B.J. Boling. A Gresham Barrett staffer at the time, Boling declined to talk. Barrett lost to Haley in the 2010 gubernatorial runoff.
On May 13, after talking to a dozen sources and having numerous conversations, Hutchins felt that the time had arrived to speak to Folks directly. "We had a pretty long conversation. He didn't admit to it. He didn't deny it," Hutchins says. "I told him in that conversation I was probably going to write a story about it."
After speaking with Folks, Hutchins then attempted to speak with Haley directly. He left a voicemail on Haley's phone on May 14. The call was returned, but not by the candidate. According to Hutchins, it was her campaign manager, Tim Pearson.
Pearson had exchanged several texts with Folks on May 13 and 14 about the forthcoming Free Times article. The men also discussed how to address the allegation if it went public. Folks published the texts on FITSNews on May 26. According to one such text message to Folks, Pearson wrote, "I think we both deny it. I think an affadavit [sic] is something we can beat down. Legally and politically."
A minute later he added, "I'm telling you man, we keep this under wraps and nh [Nikki Haley] is going to win."
Not once in the text messages does Pearson or Folks deny the rumor. The texts also paint a portrait of Folks as a man clearly worried that the charge will become public.
While Pearson was aware of the allegations on May 13, Hutchins claims that on May 14 Pearson acted as if he had never heard the rumor before. According to Hutchins, Pearson asked him why he had called Haley. Hutchins replied, "'Actually, I was going to ask her if she had an affair with Will Folks.'" Hutchins claims, "And he laughed. And he said that's ridiculous or something. And I said, I really don't think it is, and I talked to him about how I thought I had enough to go on. And he said, you're on some pretty shaky ground here. And I said, well, I don't think so."
According to Hutchins, Pearson told him that Haley would not comment on the allegation. "He acted like, oh, this is just coming out of [left] field — this is ridiculous, where is this coming from — but it's obvious that he had been waiting for a phone call," Hutchins says.
"Now, after reading the text messages between him and Will, it sounded like they were well aware of this and it's not like the first time that he heard it," he says.
Pearson has not spoken with the City Paper despite several requests for an interview.
While Hutchins doesn't believe that the impact of his story was weakened by Folks' initial report, the Free Times reporter thinks the story could have been stronger.
"It would have been nice to get a direct comment from [Haley] about it before Will had come out with his allegations or his confessions or whatever you want to call it," Hutchins says. "They did a very good job of handling her, and it's obvious now from the type of messages that they knew something was in the pipe and they were going to protect her as much as possible."
Looking back, he says he missed an opportunity to approach both Haley and her husband Michael at the Sarah Palin endorsement rally, which Hutchins attended. "It would have been nice if I had done that," Hutchins says, adding that a friend had called and invited him to go fishing around the time the endorsement was taking place and he took off before Palin finished. Besides, he says, he felt like he'd pretty much heard enough.
"I thought there would be other opportunities," Hutchins says.
The former staffer
There is one individual with ties to Haley that could possibly put an end to what has become yet another low point in Palmetto State politics: B.J. Boling.
According to the Free Times, a political insider made the claim that "former Haley staffer B.J. Boling told him Haley had confided in him about the affair around the time Boling was working on her House re-election campaign in 2008."
When confronted by the Free Times about this secondhand information, Boling said, "You know, it's not something I want to talk about."
While there is certainly reason to question secondhand information, especially information about a rumor that had been circulating the Statehouse for several years, Boling's alleged insider knowledge about the reported affair seemed to be treated as fact by at least a few parties. Text messages released on FITSNews between Folks and Wesley Donehue seem to indicate that they and others believed that Haley had confessed to Boling. Many of the sources we spoke to had heard the same story.
In one text Donehue says to Folks, "Now, I don't give a fuck of [sic] you believe me or not. Your [sic] the one who screwed her. You're the one who bragged about it. She's the one who told BJ. Yall [sic] point fingers at your own damn selves and leave me the fuck out of it."
Later on May 14, Donehue seemed to send a signal to Folks indicating that the affair claim could be squashed. "I'm going to try to kill it. You need to get BJ to back down. Nothing good will come of this getting out. I've already helped bust up one family. No need to take down another one."
In a recent conversation with the City Paper, Donehue says that while he once believed Folks' claim, he no longer believes the blogger had a physical relationship with Haley. As a member of the SCGOP team, Donehue is actively involved in getting Haley elected.
Boling has failed to return numerous phone calls and e-mails from the City Paper.
The anti-Haley Republican
On Sept. 30, Dave Woodard stood in the Statehouse lobby and openly violated Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. It was either an act of courage or political suicide.
Cyndi Mosteller, a former vice chair of the SCGOP, stood with him. The pair had serious concerns about Nikki Haley — her failure to file her taxes on time, her paychecks from Wilbur Smith and Lexington Medical, her refusal to release her e-mails and her hard drive, and her refusal to submit a signed affidavit saying she did not have a physical relationship with Will Folks and Larry Marchant.
While Woodard talked, a group of SCGOP bigwigs, including current Republican Party chair Karen Floyd and former head Katon Dawson, looked on, seemingly ready to give the anti-Haley duo a lashing once they stepped away from the podium.
The next day, Woodard was feeling beaten, but not broken, telling the City Paper, "I feel like Kyle Parker after the Auburn game but beat up all over."
Woodard and Mosteller's decision to break ranks and form Conservatives for Truth in Politics (TIP) has angered more than the SCGOP establishment. "I'd say that I lost about half the friends I had before yesterday," Woodard said. "It has not been a pleasant thing for me to do this."
During Floyd's speech following Woodard and Mosteller's time at the mic, the SCGOP head proclaimed that Palmetto State Republicans stood united. She was full of it. "You have two people over here who are not united," Woodard says. "But that's what they had to say. You could predict that. But if you listen to what they had to say, they were giving the party line and everything — this has all been talked about — but, of course, everything we were saying wasn't washed away by what they said."
Floyd also stated there was a simple reason why Mosteller and Woodard were speaking out, and it had nothing to do with the affair allegations, Haley's late taxes, or the candidate's failure to be transparent about her consulting income. "The status quo is scared, and it's simply lashing back," Floyd said, according to The Post and Courier.
The statement is laughable. Dawson is an establishment Republican who recently ran for the chairmanship of the national Republican Party, only to lose to Michael Steele. The reason: Word had gotten out that Dawson had been a member of an all-white country club. Meanwhile, as the leader of the state Republican Party, Floyd is not only a member of the status quo, she's an establishment queen.
The charge left Clemson University professor Woodard baffled. Neither he nor Mosteller, a Lowcountry resident, live anywhere near Columbia. "We're not part of the network. We don't know what goes on downtown there," he says. "How could we be looked at as the good ole boys trying to protect the establishment from some reformist governor?"
Woodard also claims that at the Statehouse he was approached by both Dawson and Floyd. "Karen told me about three times, I'm really disappointed," he alleges. Floyd did not respond to a request for an interview.
However, he also claims that an individual he can't name told him that he "may be right" when it comes to his belief that Haley is bad news. He adds, "You know what, I am right."
Woodard has his suspicions that even Floyd, Dawson, and the others defending Haley that day have their own doubts about the gubernatorial candidate.
"It reminded me of all the cabinet members defending Bill Clinton before the blue dress was found," Woodard says. "Their body language was saying something else. They know in their hearts that Dave Woodard and Cyndi Mosteller are raising the very questions they wished they had answers to."
At least one critic told Woodard that Haley had been vetted during the primary process, that all questions had been asked and addressed. Woodard disagrees. "A lot of these things, especially on the taxes and the consulting, came out after the primary," he says.
And indeed, Haley wasn't vetted during the primary process. For months, all attention had been focused on the two leaders in the race: Henry McMaster and Gresham Barrett. As for fellow contender Lt. Gov. André Bauer, the people had two terms to get to know him all too well. But Haley was the dark horse candidate, one who appeared to have no chance of winning. And so virtually no one paid her any attention. That was until ReformSC got involved and Sarah Palin rolled into town. It was only then that the virtually unknown Haley rose from last place in the polls to the lead.
Currently, Haley has seen her once commanding lead over her Democratic opponent Vincent Sheheen slip, dropping to nine points in one poll and four in another. With the race tightening — and bad press against Haley coming almost daily — one would think that Woodard's close friend and Tea Party kingmaker Sen. Jim DeMint would return to the state to throw his support behind the GOP candidate. After all, DeMint is actively campaigning for nearly every other Tea Party candidate across the nation. But when it comes to Haley, DeMint, a social conservative, has so far stayed away.
However, Woodard believes that when the time comes, DeMint will support Haley. Unfortunately, that time is fast approaching, if not slipping by. "He'll campaign with her. I have no doubt he will when he comes back. I don't think he's going to stand off from her," Woodard says.
As for why Haley won the primary and why SCGOP leaders like Floyd and Dawson still publicly support their party's gubernatorial nominee, Woodard points the finger at the media. They simply haven't done their job. "The Washington Post brought down the Nixon administration through Woodward and Bernstein because they were investigative reporters. We don't have press like that now because the whole structure of the newspaper business has changed," he says. "Now newspapers are half or a third the staff they were 10, 15 years ago. They don't have the resources to do that. They can't go out and do this."
He adds that in the past things were much different. "We had Lee Bandy [of The State] here. We had Dan Hoover [of The Greenville News.] These guys were experienced statewide reporters who had been in Washington and also in the state, and they were good. They performed a guardian function," he says. "They would not have let Nikki Haley not answer questions. They would have been pressing her for answers, and their newspapers would have been backing them."
Today, things are much different, and for Woodard, sadly so. He says, "I think that she or any other politician can get away with a lot more than they used to be able to."
But even if Haley gets elected, Woodard does not believe that Haley's woes, and ours too, will go away. "I remember what Sam Ervin said in the Watergate hearings right after they found the tapes," Woodard says. "He said, 'The truth, it always comes out. It always comes out.' And it will. It will come out. I've been watching this game for 30 years, and I've always seen it sneak out sometime."
Nov. 2004 — Nikki Haley first elected to state House of Representatives
2007-2009 — Haley paid $42,500 for consulting work for Wilbur Smith Associates
Early 2007 — FITSNews blogger and consultant Will Folks begins working for Haley
Early 2007 — Folks claims he and Haley first share a kiss, make-out in Haley's SUV
Spring 2007 — Folks claims relationship between Haley took place
June 2007 — Folks claims he and Haley ended relationship
June-Aug. 2007 — Lengthy phone calls, some late at night, between Folks and Haley
March 2008 — Folks no longer works for Haley
June 14-15, 2008 — Larry Marchant claims that he and Haley have a one-night affair at a conference in Salt Lake City
Aug. 2008 — Haley joins Lexington Medical Center Foundation as a fundraiser, earns $110,000 a year
Jan. 2010 — Folks and Haley reportedly exchange text message; Folks claims text references prior physical relationship
April — Haley and Lexington Medical part ways under reportedly less than amicable conditions
May 13 — Corey Hutchins of the Free Times (Columbia) calls Folks and asks him if he had an affair with Haley
May 13-22 — Haley Campaign Manager Tim Pearson and Folks discuss what to do about the allegations; no denial is made
May 14 — Hutchins calls Haley to ask if she had an affair with Folks; Pearson denies the charge
May 14 — Sarah Palin endorses Haley at rally
May 17 — Poll putting Haley in the lead for the first time takes place
May 24 — Folks posts on FITSNews that he had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki Haley
May 24 — Free Times posts investigatory story on alleged Folks-Haley affair
June 2 — Marchant makes his claim that he had a one-night stand with Haley
June 8 — Haley wins most votes in GOP primary, but must face off against Gresham Barrett
June 22 — The State (Columbia) reports that Haley failed to disclose $42,500 in income for consultant work from Wilbur Smith Associates
June 22 — Haley beats Barrett in the runoff
Aug. 4 — The State reports that Haley, an accountant, routinely filed her taxes late
Sept. 10 — AP reports that Haley's parents' business was penalized for late taxes
Sept. 27 — The State reports that Haley was paid $110,000 to be a fundraiser for Lexington Medical
Sept. 30 — Conservatives for Truth in Politics speak out against Haley at Statehouse
Oct. 12 — Folks releases an affidavit claiming new details about an alleged affair with Haley
Oct. 15 — Marchant releases an affidavit about his alleged one-night affair with Haley