Nikki Haley had been serving within the South Carolina legislature for lower than two years when she utilized for a job in late 2006 as an accounting clerk at Wilbur Smith Associates, an engineering and design agency with state contracts.

She wanted work. Her dad and mom’ clothes enterprise, the place she and her husband, Michael Haley, had each labored, was winding down. Ms. Haley was incomes a wage of simply $22,000 as a part-time state legislator. And her husband’s personal enterprise, involving companies swapping items and companies, was dropping cash.

Wilbur Smith executives regarded Ms. Haley as overqualified for the accounting job. However due to her wide-ranging community, they’d later say, they put Ms. Haley on a retainer, asking her to scout out potential new enterprise. She by no means discovered any, a prime govt later mentioned. Over the following two years, the agency paid her $48,000 for a job the chief described as “a passive place.”

That contract, and a subsequent, rather more profitable one as a fund-raiser for a distinguished hospital in her residence county, allowed Ms. Haley to triple her earnings in simply three years. However in addition they led her into an moral grey space that tarnished her first time period as South Carolina’s governor.

Ms. Haley didn’t disclose her Wilbur Smith contract till 2010, holding it secret for greater than three years. She additionally pushed for the hospital’s prime precedence — a brand new heart-surgery heart — on the similar time she was on its payroll. And Ms. Haley raised cash for the hospital’s charitable basis from lobbyists and companies who might have had purpose to curry favor together with her.

The donations, one lobbyist wrote, have been a approach of “sucking up” to a rising political participant.

The blurry line between Ms. Haley’s private and public pursuits grew to become the topic of a State Home ethics investigation in 2012. The Republican-led committee concluded that Ms. Haley, by then the governor, had not violated any state ethics guidelines. However ethics consultants and even a few of her previous supporters say the end result was extra an indictment of the lax guidelines and comfortable ties between lawmakers and particular pursuits than a vindication of her actions.

“Was Nikki Haley appearing unethically? Perhaps,” mentioned Scott English, who was chief of workers to former Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican and Ms. Haley’s predecessor. “Was she appearing unethically based on the jungle guidelines of South Carolina politics on the time? By no means.”

Ms. Haley’s early ethics controversy is a far cry from the authorized morass entangling her prime rival for the Republican nomination, former President Donald J. Trump, who faces 91 prison expenses, together with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the US. Mr. Trump can be dealing with civil penalties for a yearslong fraud scheme involving his actual property enterprise.

But Ms. Haley’s actions broke moral norms, based on Kedric Payne, who directs the ethics program for the Marketing campaign Authorized Middle, a nonpartisan watchdog group. In most states, at the very least a few of her conduct would have been out of bounds, he mentioned, as a result of it created the looks of a battle of curiosity.

A core precept of most state ethics legal guidelines is that “you can not have outdoors employment that would in any approach battle together with your official duties,” Mr. Payne mentioned.

In South Carolina, the ethics investigation of Ms. Haley undermined her picture as a broom-sweeping crusader working to shake up the political institution — a persona she continues to be cultivating. Campaigning in New Hampshire on Saturday, Ms. Haley dismissed her lack of endorsements from politicians in her residence state and in Washington on account of her stances on transparency and ethics.

“I’ve known as elected officers out as a result of accountability issues,” she mentioned.

The questions on Ms. Haley’s potential conflicts revealed how her work in politics had produced monetary dividends nearly from the start of her profession in public life.

In recent times, Ms. Haley has made thousands and thousands from consulting charges, paid speeches, inventory and seats on company boards. Within the 12 months main as much as her presidential bid, she made round $2.5 million in earnings on talking engagements alone, based on her monetary disclosures.

This account of Ms. Haley’s early ethics troubles is drawn from testimony, filings and displays launched by the South Carolina Home in response to a public info request from The New York Instances, in addition to different paperwork, interviews and media accounts.

Ms. Haley’s presidential marketing campaign didn’t reply to questions concerning the controversy. She mentioned on the time that she had adopted the present guidelines and solid the episode as an try by her political enemies to maintain her from combating South Carolina’s pay-to-play tradition.

“I don’t assume I did something improper,” she instructed the ethics committee in 2012.

But when she campaigned for a second time period as governor, Ms. Haley labored to rehabilitate her picture and ran on a promise to reform the state’s ethics guidelines. As soon as re-elected, she signed a regulation that outlawed secret sources of earnings like her Wilbur Smith contract.

In 2010, prodded by her opponent in her first run for governor, Ms. Haley disclosed six years of her joint tax returns together with her husband, Michael Haley. They confirmed a stretch of modest earnings, 1000’s of {dollars} in penalties and curiosity for late tax funds, and near $21,000 in enterprise losses from Mr. Haley’s temporary enterprise enterprise, based on printed accounts and summaries of the tax returns given to Home ethics committee investigators.

(Though Ms. Haley has repeatedly mentioned that candidates for president ought to launch their tax returns, she has not launched her personal, nor have her opponents within the Republican major race.)

As younger adults, each Ms. Haley and her husband had labored for her dad and mom’ clothes enterprise, Exotica Worldwide, she because the agency’s chief monetary officer, he answerable for males’s put on. However the Haleys’ earnings from the shop petered out in 2006, two years earlier than it closed. The couple, who then have been each of their mid-30s, had two kids. Ms. Haley’s legislative job was solely a part-time place. Mr. Haley joined the South Carolina Nationwide Guard that fall, however initially earned little.

The Wilbur Smith contract helped fill within the monetary gaps. The tax paperwork recommend that the engineering agency’s retainer amounted to just about half of her household’s earnings of $64,000 in 2007.

A prime govt on the agency testified that he might recall just one or two conferences with Ms. Haley and that they by no means mentioned state contracts. Ms. Haley mentioned a Home lawyer had suggested her that she was not required to report the funds. She recused herself from a vote on one of many agency’s tasks out of an abundance of warning, however voted on a second invoice that canceled the undertaking. She testified she didn’t see a battle in that vote.

Wilbur Smith ended her retainer in late 2008.

By then, Ms. Haley was onto one thing new. That summer time, she requested Michael J. Biediger, then the chief govt of Lexington Medical Middle, to rent her.

Ms. Haley mentioned her dad and mom have been both dropping or promoting their enterprise, Mr. Biediger testified. Her job utility listed her wage at Exotica as $125,000 and requested the identical quantity. However her tax returns indicated she by no means earned greater than $47,000 a 12 months from the clothes agency.

Ms. Haley didn’t fill out or signal the applying, a prime aide instructed reporters, though the applying said that her typed title constituted a signature.

Mr. Biediger created a $110,000-a-year place for Ms. Haley as a fund-raiser for the hospital’s basis, a subsidiary of the hospital. On the time, she was a member of the highly effective Home Labor, Commerce and Business committee and was additionally majority whip.

He instructed the ethics committee he had employed her for her networking expertise and character and relied on a consulting agency’s advice to set her wage. A survey by the state’s Affiliation of Nonprofit Organizations discovered that her wage was two and a half occasions as excessive as the common for related organizations.

The job got here with inherent moral dilemmas. Legislators have been prohibited from serving as lobbyists, however now Ms. Haley was carrying two hats: as a lawmaker attempting to assist the hospital win state approval to open the heart-surgery heart, and as a paid worker of a hospital subsidiary.

Ms. Haley continued to work with different lawmakers on a plan to construct help for the heart-surgery heart, based on emails. She additionally spoke with an official on the state board with decision-making authority over the middle, and communicated with hospital officers concerning the proposed undertaking.

Requested about her twin roles, Ms. Haley, who disclosed her hospital work on her monetary disclosures, instructed the ethics committee she had stored her jobs separate.

“I by no means had a legislative dialog in any approach blended with a basis dialog,” she mentioned.

Ms. Haley additionally dismissed considerations that her fund-raising job opened up a possible avenue for particular pursuits that may need to affect her. She solicited donations from varied company pursuits, together with an affiliation of monetary companies corporations and Blue Cross Blue Protect of South Carolina.

To contact Blue Cross executives, Ms. Haley first reached out to a distinguished lobbyist, Larry Marchant, she testified. Mr. Marchant instructed her that if the corporate contributed, “You will owe me,” she mentioned, and she or he replied, “You recognize I don’t work like that.”

The well being insurer’s donations grew from $1,000 in 2007, the 12 months earlier than Ms. Haley joined the inspiration, to $20,000 in 2010.

In January of that 12 months, as Ms. Haley was working for governor, Mr. Marchant suggested the agency to not decrease its donation, writing to 1 firm official: “I’m nonetheless sucking as much as Nikki within the occasion she comes on sturdy within the major.”

Blue Cross officers instructed the ethics committee they’d carried out an inner investigation and decided that the donations weren’t an try to affect Ms. Haley, however a typical effort to construct good will with the neighborhood.

Ms. Haley and Lexington Medical minimize ties throughout her marketing campaign. As governor, she attacked the Home ethics inquiry as a distraction engineered by Democrats. A shock witness in her personal protection, Ms. Haley accused the influential Republican lawyer who had filed the preliminary ethics grievance, John Rainey, of being a “racist, sexist bigot” and of suggesting that her household was associated to terrorists. Mr. Rainey later mentioned that Ms. Haley, whose dad and mom are Indian immigrants, had misconstrued the remark.

The Republican-led committee dismissed every of the costs with little rationalization. Democrats argued that the lawmakers by no means totally investigated the allegations as a result of they have been loath to go up in opposition to a sitting governor.

In South Carolina, the episode was quickly overshadowed by a barrage of different corruption scandals. John Crangle, the previous head of South Carolina’s chapter of Frequent Trigger, mentioned that Ms. Haley’s conduct didn’t “scent good,” however that it paled compared to the convictions of half a dozen legislators, together with the speaker of the Home, of crimes involving misuse of marketing campaign funds and funds from lobbyists.

The Middle for Public Integrity, in a state-by-state survey of ethics guidelines, gave South Carolina an F score in 2012, saying the state’s loopholes have been “massive sufficient to dock a Accomplice submarine.”

Quickly after the ethics investigation, Ms. Haley went on a whistle-stop tour of the state selling an ethics overhaul. In 2016, she signed two payments that required lawmakers to reveal the sources, however not the quantities, of personal earnings, and revamped the method for reviewing allegations.

Mr. Crangle mentioned the adjustments didn’t go far sufficient.

“Particular pursuits need to make investments massive quantities of cash to purchase laws and legislators, and Nikki by no means actually challenged that institutional system of corruption,” he mentioned.

In her personal retelling of her political rise, Ms. Haley made no point out of her ethics points. In a 2012 memoir, she wrote that she believed that letting lawmakers disguise the sources of their earnings — as she herself had carried out — was improper.

“It breeds conflicts of curiosity,” she wrote. “The individuals deserved to know who paid us.”

Kitty Bennett and Susan Beachy contributed analysis. Jazmine Ulloa and Rebecca Davis O’Brien contributed reporting.

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