House votes to censure Sanford

Measure now likely to languish in Senate

01/14/2010 12:00 AM

01/14/2010 12:43 AM

It cost his campaign $185,000, but Gov. Mark Sanford escaped his brush with impeachment with only a reprimand from the S.C. House.

Whether the state Senate will follow up with a censure of its own is unclear.

With no fanfare and little debate, the S.C. House of Representatives Wednesday voted 102-11 to publicly reprimand Sanford for bringing "ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame" to himself and South Carolina.

Discussion of the censure resolution, the first S.C. lawmakers have considered of a governor in at least 130 years, took about 20 minutes and left a majority of House members satisfied they had carried out the will of South Carolinians.

"I'm disappointed it wasn't a unanimous vote," said Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, who chaired a panel that voted to censure rather than impeach Sanford. "But the vote made it clear that a majority of House members agree."

Specifically, the resolution admonishes Sanford for:

- Secretly leaving the state in June to visit his Argentine lover without notifying the lieutenant governor and for misleading his staff and other public officials as to his whereabouts.

- Adding a leg to a 2008 trade mission to include Argentina. During the trip, he saw his lover.

- Misusing state aircraft for political or personal reasons rather than legitimate state reasons.

A few hours later, the Senate kicked the resolution to committee rather than voting on it, upping the likelihood the resolution will never be passed.

Meanwhile, Sanford disclosed Wednesday he made three payments totaling $185,346 from his campaign account to Hall & Bowers LLC, which represented Sanford in front of the S.C. Supreme Court and a House of Representatives panel investigating impeachment.

Elected officials may use campaign funds for legal costs related to their office, according to state law.

The filing also shows Sanford paid his Maryland-based political consultant, Red Sea LLC, $66,100 during the quarter. That figure was up from the roughly $4,000 Sanford paid Red Sea in most quarters since his 2006 re-election.

Sanford spokesman Ben Fox declined to comment on campaign-related questions. Efforts to reach Hall & Bowers were unsuccessful.

Some state lawmakers think the legal fight and the investigations should have resulted in more than censure.

Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said he voted against censure Wednesday because he thinks Sanford deserves impeachment.

"Censure doesn't make (Sanford) sit in a corner, doesn't make him wear a T-shirt or a scarlet letter on his forehead," Rutherford said. "We didn't dock his pay for the five days he was gone. So what's the point of censuring him? It's a total waste of time."

Rep. Ken Kennedy, D-Williamsburg, who also voted against censure, agreed.

"Censure doesn't mean anything. We're not here to censure the governor. We're here to impeach him or let it go," Kennedy said. "If we didn't find anything impeachable in all of that stuff, then we should let it go."

Last month, Harrison's panel of lawmakers scoured Sanford's travel records, plane flights and campaign funds. In the end, a majority agreed there was wrongdoing but nothing worthy of ousting the embattled governor during the final year of his term.

Other House members who voted against the resolution including Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Beaufort, who said the governor has suffered enough.

"I've talked to the governor. He's apologized to all of us. I don't need to be a part of a public humiliation," he said.

Rep. David Umphlett, R-Berkeley, said he talked to many of his constituents and, based on what they said, decided to vote against the censure resolution.

"We don't need to be wasting time on this when the economy is the way it is and we need jobs, jobs, jobs. The man has already lost a lot with his family."

Sanford did not comment Wednesday on the resolution.

Last month, first lady Jenny Sanford filed for divorce, citing her husband's infidelity.

In court papers, the governor admitted to adultery and agreed to a divorce that will end the couple's 20-year marriage. The two are due in divorce court late next month.

In the Senate, Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, made the case for referring the resolution to committee for further consideration rather than allowing the full Senate to vote on it immediately.

Under Senate rules, one senator can move a bill or resolution to a committee for further review.

"It wasn't a pressing issue to get back to the United States from Argentina, so why should we rush to do something about it now?" Knotts said, adding that Sanford's activities need to be further investigated by a committee.

Some lawmakers worry the censure will die in a Senate committee, never becoming part of the state's official history.

Harrison said he hopes that does not happen.

"It would be an improper way to treat this resolution. But the Senate has its own rules," he said. "The House has spoken."

Sanford still faces up to $74,000 in fines from the state Ethics Commission, which believes Sanford broke 37 laws involving travel and campaign funds.

State Attorney General Henry McMaster is also trying to to determine whether criminal prosecution is needed.

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