Security 'the way he wanted'

Agents spent $61,000 on food, housing for Sanford's 2nd-term trips out of town

cleblanc@thestate.comOctober 25, 2009 

South Carolina taxpayers have paid more than $61,000 to feed and house Gov. Mark Sanford's security detail on out-of-town trips made during his second term.

Sanford, who has trimmed the use of his security detail compared with other governors, ditched the team occasionally, including to meet an Argentine woman during a yearlong affair.

But the governor kept officers with him or his family when they made out-of-town trips, including family vacations, according to The State's analysis of more than 250 reimbursement vouchers submitted by security officers through mid-July of this year.

About 78 percent of the $61,000 - about $48,000 - was spent on travel to one of the family's private homes or on vacation, hunting trips or to attend Republican political meetings or Air Force Reserve training.

Some trips involved official duties for the governor or first lady.

The newspaper's findings do not allege wrongdoing, but they document how Sanford chose to use security and underscore the bill the public paid.

Since his first election in 2002, the Republican governor has maintained an arm's-length relationship with the security team. He declined to be monitored from election night until he took office in January 2003 - the first governor in memory to do so - and he cut the size of the security force almost in half.

"He saved oodles of money," said Jack Proffitt, a SLED agent who has served on the details of four governors. Sanford reduced the detail from 12 members to seven.

Yet, "for whatever reason, he was turned off by us, but not enough to get rid of us," said Proffitt, who heads the detail.

Sanford's office would not respond specifically to the newspaper's analysis nor to written questions about security expenses.

Spokesman Ben Fox wrote: "... Given how vital the topic of state security and specific law enforcement protocol is, and the fact that discussing the inner workings of such would not only potentially put state leaders in jeopardy but may force a costly and complicated change in protocols for law enforcement, we'll not comment directly on these topics."

Fox wrote that Sanford has tried to strike a balance between law enforcement's duty to protect the first family, the Sanfords' desire for privacy and prudent spending in tight budgetary times.

The Sanford administration has "documented ... immense savings ... when it comes to the governor's security detail," Fox wrote. He did not respond to a request for the documentation.

A CLOSER LOOK

About 35 percent of the $61,000, or roughly $22,300, was spent to secure the governor, his wife or their four sons while they were at their homes on Sullivan's Island, at the Sanford family home at Coosaw or on personal time, according to travel vouchers and the itineraries of the governor and first lady.

The security cost for Sanford and his wife totaled at least $20,000 when they were on political trips such as appearances at county GOP conventions or events organized by the Republican Governors Association and other partisan events.

Taxpayers also covered a $4,900 tab for Sanford to travel to meet his commitment to the Air Force Reserve.

The newspaper analyzed 255 reimbursement vouchers submitted for payment on trips made by security staff from three state agencies that offer agents to the governor's security detail. Vouchers must be filed when a security officer employed by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the Department of Public Safety or the Department of Natural Resources travels out of town and has a meal, stays in a motel or incurs other travel expenses such as airfare or parking fees.

The $61,000 total does not include annual salaries for the officers - which range from $32,450 to $52,000.

The vouchers were submitted between Jan. 1, 2006, and mid-July 2009.

About 22 percent of the $61,400 spent since the start of Sanford's second term covered expenditures incurred while the governor and his wife performed official duties, the analysis found.

GOOD STEWARD?

Sanford's use of taxpayer funds has been questioned since the public learned June 24 of his five-day trip to Argentina to be with his lover, Maria Belen Chapur. A State Ethics Commission staff investigation of the governor's conduct is due to be completed next month. Meanwhile, calls to impeach Sanford have intensified, including from state leaders and members of his own Republican Party.

A brief history of Sanford's travel shows:

- He sometimes used expensive business-class airfares despite state regulations that require coach or tourist-class travel, The Associated Press reported.

- He spent more than $50,000 on flights in state airplanes that carried at least one of his four sons, as well as $6,800 flying on other personal and political trips, including to a birthday party for a generous campaign donor - all in apparent conflict with state law.

- He spent about $20,000 more than commercial airfare rates to take charter jets in Europe while traveling on state business in June 2007, The Associated Press said.

- He used private planes more than 30 times without disclosing them on his state ethics statements or in campaign documents, The Associated Press said.

All of that tarnishes the public image of Sanford as a frugal steward of public money, critics say.

Sanford made headlines in Congress in 1999 by sleeping in his office rather than renting a Washington apartment as most members do. He insulted legislators in 2004 by bringing pigs into the State House to protest what Sanford considered pork-barrel spending. He has vetoed hundreds of spending proposals in the state's annual budgets.

WHAT IS, IS NOT COUNTED

The newspaper's analysis of the security travel vouchers employs a conservative tally of the cost of attending to the first family.

In addition to excluding the salaries of the detail, the $61,000 does not include the cost of gasoline to fuel the state vehicles that security officers drive. Further, air-travel expenses when the Sanfords flew on a state-owned plane are not part of the figures analyzed.

Also, the costs of driving the Sanford boys daily to their private school and to local sporting events are not tallied.

Only travel that required overnight stays or meals was analyzed because agents don't submit paperwork for travel in and around Columbia.

The documentation examined by the newspaper shows:

- 150 vouchers from Department of Natural Resources officers that cost taxpayers $26,500. That agency logged more trips than others in part because one of its officers was assigned full-time to escort the first lady and the Sanfords' sons.

- 60 vouchers from Highway Patrol troopers that cost taxpayers $17,000. The patrol is the largest component of the Department of Public Safety.

- 45 vouchers from SLED agents that cost taxpayers $17,700.

Precise totals are difficult to decipher in some cases. The newspaper counted a trip as personal when the Sanfords went home mostly by choice or to participate in partisan events. Trips where they combined duties of the office with their travel to the Lowcountry or elsewhere were not counted as personal.

In May 2006, for example, the governor gave a commencement address at Charleston Southern University near his Sullivan's Island home, where an officer spent $182.69 for a Mount Pleasant motel and meals.

More often, Sanford, the first lady and the children traveled home for weekends or between official duties, according to a comparison of the vouchers and official itineraries.

ON VACATION

When not staying in the Governor's Mansion, the Sanfords live in their Sullivan's Island home outside Charleston or at the governor's family home along the Coosaw River in Beaufort County.

The Sanfords traveled to and from their private homes about 100 times, a little more than their predecessors, said Proffitt, who served on the security detail for Govs. Carroll Campbell, David Beasley and Sanford. Proffitt worked only a few months for Gov. Jim Hodges, Sanford's immediate predecessor.

Hodges, a Democrat, said he and his family rarely traveled to their Lancaster home during his term.

"Seldom were there overnight expenses," he said.

Efforts to reach Beasley, a Republican, for this story were unsuccessful.

The Sanfords took vacations out of state during the governor's second term, including holiday trips to the Florida home of Jenny Sanford's parents. Sometimes out-of-state trips were piggybacked onto events organized by the National Governors Association, the Republican Governors Association or conservative groups.

The governor and first lady took security with them on about 55 political trips, according to the vouchers.

In the spring of 2007, Sanford left a meeting of the Club for Growth, which supports small government and free-market policies, in Florida and took his family on a eight-day trip from Southern California to Boulder, Colo., to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. The price tag for the security officer who traveled with them was $2,160.23.

Sanford took security with him on vacation 12 times since January 2006, the records show.

Hodges said he cannot recall vacationing outside South Carolina during his term.

"This is supposed to be a tourist state," he said. "It would be very difficult to explain a vacation out of state when you're supposed to live in the paradise vacation place in the country."

THE SANFORD APPROACH

Sanford broke with custom by rejecting a security detail as governor-elect, his staff and Proffitt said.

Proffitt said he has a solid, professional relationship with the governor and his family. But added: "He has his own reasons for not liking security, I guess. His whole thing has always been budget and money."

Sanford's predecessors welcomed the presence of security officers, even when they traveled on personal time, he said.

"When I started, we ran it the way we always did," Proffitt said. "But that didn't last long (under Sanford). We started doing it the way he wanted."

Sanford's maverick approach to being monitored by security made it easier for him to slip away in June for a romantic rendezvous in Argentina. A reporter for The State surprised him in the Atlanta airport as he returned. Sanford publicly acknowledged his affair within hours.

Sanford spokesman Fox said there has been "a tension" between the tradition of "near-constant use of security," the need to quickly reach the governor and the Sanfords' desire to "have their boys grow up in as near a normal environment as possible."

South Carolina has no law that requires security for governors at all times. In recent years, a budget proviso leaves the degree of monitoring to whatever the governor chooses.

Recent governors were more accepting of being under constant watch, Proffitt said.

Campbell took security officers with him everywhere, Proffitt said. "He liked having us around."

Campbell added wildlife officers to the team because he wanted someone with him on fishing and hunting trips, Proffitt said. Having a trained Natural Resources officer provided security in outdoor settings.

Wildlife officers have been part of the governor's security detail since then.

Beasley was about the same, Proffitt said.

Hodges recalls that he quickly realized how seriously security personnel take their jobs. One morning Hodges drove his oldest son to school rather than wait on an officer.

The head of security met with Hodges when he returned and "had a Dutch-uncle discussion with me," Hodges said.

Hodges said he never again traveled without an officer.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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