Ethics panel votes to charge Sanford

Comission cites several violations: governor will give House the report

joconnor@thestate.comNovember 20, 2009 

  • What's Next?

    A House committee could meet next week to begin reviewing the State Ethics Commission case against Gov. Mark Sanford, as the House weighs impeachment charges. The State Ethics Commission will schedule a hearing, likely for early next year, where the charges against Sanford will be aired and he will be able to mount his defense

    Report released

    Gov. Mark Sanford said he will turn over an Ethics Commission investigative report into his travel and campaign spending to House lawmakers next week.

    Charges detailed

    The Ethics Commission could detail the charges against Sanford it agreed to this week. Sanford's attorneys acknowledged the commission has questioned about three dozen plane trips and campaign expenditures

    Ethics hearing

    The charges against Sanford will be aired at a hearing the Ethics Commission will schedule for early next year. Three members of the commission, chosen at random, will run the hearing. Sanford and the commission can call witnesses and present evidence. The commissioners will vote to decide whether Sanford is guilty.

    What was examined

    What the State Ethics Commission reviewed in its investigation of Gov. Mark Sanford. Commissioners determined there was "probable cause" Sanford violated the law - but refused to provide details about whether Sanford possibly broke ethics laws or criminal laws. The investigation, which began in August, looked at:

    Misuse of state airplanes. State law bars any use of state planes other than for official business. Sanford, according to state documents, used a state plane to ferry family members and to attend political functions, possible violations of state law. Sanford's attorneys said the commission questioned about two dozen plane trips.

    Using expensive airfares on foreign trips. State law requires the use of the most economical travel available. Sanford used more expensive airfare, according to state documents. Sanford has defended himself, arguing other governors have paid for similar travel.

    Failure to disclose private plane trips. The Associated Press reported Sanford accepted 35 rides on private planes that he did not disclose in his state ethics report, a possible violation of state law. Questions have arisen since about whether Sanford should have paid federal taxes on those plane trips. Sanford's attorneys said the governor has been cleared on his use of private planes.

    Use of campaign funds. Sanford has refused to say publicly why he reimbursed himself more than $1,800 for expenses from his campaign account in the past 18 months. Sanford's attorneys say the Ethics Commission is reviewing about a dozen campaign expenditures.

Gov. Mark Sanford agreed Thursday to remove the last hurdle to a long-delayed House of Representatives impeachment investigation of his travel and campaign expenses.

Sanford's attorneys said they planned to turn over a disputed State Ethics Commission investigative report to the House, likely early next week. House leaders have been waiting to review the report, which has been shielded from the public, before allowing impeachment hearings to begin.

Sanford's attorneys provided some insight into the months-long ethics investigation Thursday, disclosing the commission has questioned about three-dozen instances of Sanford's travel and use of campaign funds.

One sponsor of the House impeachment resolution, Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said the special impeachment panel could meet before Thanksgiving.

Sanford and the House have been at odds over the report for months, even asking the S.C. Supreme Court to decide who could review the records. Thursday, House Speaker Bobby Harrell called on Sanford, who Harrell pointed out has always championed transparency, to allow the House to review the report.

The Ethics Commission voted Wednesday to charge Sanford with "several" violations of state law, but declined to list the charges or say whether they were criminal or civil violations. Sanford's attorney Butch Bowers called the charges "minor, technical violations." The investigative report, he said, would prove that.

"The results of the Commission's exhaustive investigation confirm what we have said all along - that Governor Sanford has been a good steward of public resources and has worked hard to ensure his administration adheres to both the letter and the spirit of the law," Bowers said in a statement.

He also noted the Ethics Commission had questioned records detailing about two-dozen of 772 flights and a dozen of 622 campaign expenditures. Bowers also confirmed the Ethics Commission had cleared Sanford in one of four areas of its investigation: his use of private planes donated by friends and political allies.

Ethics investigators also reviewed Sanford's:

- Use of state planes for personal trips

- Purchase of business-class airfare despite state rules that require the cheapest available airfare

- Reimbursements from his campaign account near the times Sanford has admitted he met his Argentinean lover. Candidates may not use campaign accounts for personal expenses.

Sanford's attorneys also asked the Ethics Commission on Thursday to amend previously filed disclosures on Sanford's use of private aircraft.

"The Ethics Commission concluded yesterday that Gov. Sanford has complied with all laws regarding private air travel," Bowers said in a statement. "In reaching its conclusion, the Commission considered publicly available information regarding the governor's previously disclosed travel, which unequivocally establishes that the governor's use of private planes was in compliance with the law. Further, Gov. Sanford requested that, upon final disposition of this matter, this publicly available information be attached to his previously filed Statements of Economic Interest and campaign disclosure forms."

Bowers said he would turn the report over to the House once the Ethics Commission released a notice of hearing, which will set the date of Sanford's hearing and list the charges. Ethics Commission director Herbert Hayden said the agency hoped to release that document Monday.

Lawmakers introduced a resolution this week charging Sanford with abandoning his duties when he took a secret five-day trip to Argentina to meet his lover.

Delleney said the committee could meet before Thanksgiving, and other lawmakers hoped the committee could finish its work before the Legislature returns in January.

"Hopefully he will go ahead and release the report," said Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, "and we can start work immediately."

House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Harrison, R-Richland, said this week he plans to appoint a special seven-member subcommittee to handle the bill once he had reviewed the ethics report. Efforts to reach Harrison about when he might name the committee were unsuccessful Thursday. Delleney said he expects to be added to the committee.

Bingham said the review might answer all questions about the governor's conduct.

"Certainly it's my hope that there's nothing there," Bingham said. "I'm sure the governor, as much as any of us, wants to bring resolution to this matter."

Reach O'Connor at (803) 771-8358.

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