South Carolina's Indian-American Governor Nikki Haley has been cleared of any wrongdoing by an ethics committee which probed allegations that she lobbied on behalf of her employers when she was a legislator, a ruling that handed her a major political victory.
"We turned over every stone that we could to find evidence that would make a different decision. It's over. It's been dismissed," said State lawmaker J Roland Smith, Chairman of the House Ethics Committee which conducted the investigation against Haley, a Republican.
40-year-old Haley had created history last year by becoming the first Indian-American woman Governor of a US State. She is also the first non-white and woman Governor of South Carolina.
Soon after the panel cleared her of wrongdoing giving her a major political victory last evening, Haley wrote on her Facebook page: "It's My Life.... Bon Jovi. Great song! 'You better stand tall. When they're calling you out. Don't bend, don't break. Baby, don't back down'".
A day earlier, testifying before the Ethics Committee, Haley called her accuser, Republican fundraiser John Rainey, "a racist, sexist bigot who has tried everything in his power to hurt me and my family."
Born to immigrants from Punjab, Haley, who was a state representative from 2005-2010, was accused of using her office to illegally lobby on behalf of her two employers -- the Lexington Medical Center Foundation, where she was a $110,000-a-year fundraiser, and the Columbia-based Wilbur Smith and Associates engineering firm, where she was paid $42,500 as a consultant.
The committee carried the investigation, the first for a South Carolina Governor, after Rainey alleged that she used her legislative influence to get state approval for the hospital to build a heart centre and for the engineering firm to settle a dispute over its plan to build a state farmers' market.
"The Ethics Committee did its job thoroughly, professionally and well. It's just a shame that our judicial and legislative bodies have had to waste so much of their time on phony political charges that never had any evidence behind them or any basis in fact," Haley said in a statement.
However, Rainey criticised the decision.
"Today it is clear that the House Ethics Committee harbours a culture of corruption enshrouded in a conspiracy of silence. The members of the committee ought to be ashamed of themselves," he alleged.