Senators get reminder on ethical spending

gnsmith@thestate.comDecember 2, 2009 

  • What they asked

    What House impeachment panel members asked Gov. Mark Sanford's attorneys Tuesday. The panel peppered Sanford's attorneys with questions for three hours.

    Rep. James Harrison, R-Richland - Harrison pushed hardest about Sanford flying to an Aiken birthday party. "I'm not sure what the interest of the state would be at a birthday party."

    Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester - Chided Sanford's attorneys for trips that do not pass public scrutiny. "Perhaps there's no need because it's so obvious you shouldn't be using the state plane to attend a partisan political event."

    Rep. James Smith, D-Richland - Questioned whether Sanford might benefit from attending party fundraisers. "(Wouldn't) raising money ... be a significant draw?"

    Rep. Walt McLeod, D-Newberry - Noted if the governor was invited to the Super Bowl because of his office, he could not use the state plane to fly there. "It was clearly understood by everyone that that was not part of his official business."

    Rep. David Weeks, D-Sumter - Said that there was nothing in ethics laws about the use of state aircraft, and that the governor mixed state-related business into his travels. "Would that legitimize the trip?"

    Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville - Asked Sanford's attorneys whether impeachment and ethics charges should be kept separate. "We are talking about the legislative branch taking an action that could oust a duly elected official."

    Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester - Questioned Sanford's attorneys' interpretation of a 1988 attorney general's opinion defining official state business. "The analysis (from Sanford's lawyers) . . . I don't think supports, legally, the conclusion that he made."

Charges Gov. Mark Sanford may have misspent campaign money on personal expenses are having a ripple effect among state senators.

State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, recently sent a letter to his fellow senators, reminding them state law bars them from spending money from their campaign accounts on meals and travel the state pays for.

"When a Member receives a subsistence or mileage allowance from the State and also is reimbursed for the same expenditure from his campaign account, such Member is reimbursed twice for the same expenditure," the letter reads in part. "The (ethics) committee believes that such act is synonymous with converting campaign funds to personal use which is prohibited."

Sanford faces charges by the State Ethics Commission that, on 10 occasions, he misspent nearly $3,000 in campaign dollars on personal expenses.

Hayes said he has no reason to think any senator has misspent campaign money.

"It's basically just a reminder. I don't know of any instances where that's going on in the Senate," Hayes said, adding the Senate's new research director thought it would be good to remind lawmakers of the rules as they head into January's legislative session.

Under state law, legislators can use campaign money from donors to pay for campaign costs and costs associated with holding office.

Hayes said lawmakers often tap their campaign money to offset the cost of holding office.

"The state does not reimburse you for a lot of things you do when you're in the Senate," Hayes said, adding he attends some meetings at his own expense.

In addition to a $10,400-a-year salary, senators get $1,000 a month for in-district expenses, a $131 daily allowance during the legislative session for meals and lodging, and the equivalent of one round trip in mileage weekly from their district to the State House.

State Rep. Roland Smith, R-Aiken, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, said he has no plans to send a similar letter to House lawmakers.

"I may remind them, but I don't plan to send out a letter," Smith said. "That's common sense that if the state reimburses me, I shouldn't take it out of my campaign account."

Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.

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