Politics & Government

January 25, 2010

Sanford wealth tied to family land

Gov. Mark Sanford has been frequently described as a multimillionaire.

Gov. Mark Sanford has been frequently described as a multimillionaire.

The family "farm" in Beaufort County touted in his first gubernatorial campaign is actually a plantation.

His wealth has been attributed to a stint on Wall Street, a short career in coastal real estate and inherited money.

A review of available public records by The Greenville News suggests a far different portrait. The only real property listed in just his name in the Lowcountry is a mobile home used for storage. His wife is listed as the owner of the family's multimillion-dollar Sullivan's Island home, and he shares an interest in the plantation and other Beaufort County land with family members.

And the property owned by his wife, the wealthy Chicago-born heiress of the Skilsaw Inc. fortune, is likely to leave when the couple's divorce is final.

Sanford's wealth and his holdings will become part of the legal proceedings when he and his wife of 20 years soon sign agreements ending their marriage.

His finances also will matter next January when he leaves office and stops collecting his $106,078 paycheck as governor, though he has denied that he needs the job for financial reasons.

Sanford hasn't offered any specifics when asked by reporters about what he will do when he leaves office.

The governor, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed.

"One, I think the governor probably wishes he was as wealthy as some have suggested," said spokesman Ben Fox. "And, two, I think this experience of being governor has likely been costly at a variety of levels."


The image of Sanford as the millionaire has been filtered over time through a variety of lenses: some from his own words, others from political opponents and from news snippets based on records or political rumor.

Sanford has often talked about money, most of the time railing against government excesses in spending but sometimes joking about his own frugality. Stories about him sleeping in his office as a congressman and rejecting his housing allowance, as well as his orders to staff to reuse paper for faxes and index cards are political legend.

Those stories and the image of a frugal taxpayer steward took a hit last year when it was revealed the governor had used state aircraft for some political or personal errands. Sanford said while he might not be perfect, his office had still saved taxpayers millions by consolidating the state's air fleet and using a smaller plane for trips.

The source of his inherited wealth was his father, Marshall Sanford Sr., a former chief cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore who left the family thousands of Lowcountry acres, including the 1,400-acre Coosaw Plantation near Beaufort.

A graduate of Furman University, the governor received his MBA from the University of Virginia. He went on to spend a year and a half at the real estate division of Chemical Bank in New York and met Jennifer Sullivan, a magna cum laude graduate of Georgetown University who worked as an investment banker.

Her grandfather helped found Skilsaw in Chicago, now the Robert Bosch Tool Corp. Her father, John Sullivan, left the company to lead the Reading Corp. of Philadelphia.

The Sanfords married in 1989 and had four sons.

Sanford decided to run for Congress in 1994 and won the first of three terms representing the 1st Congressional District. Afterward, he dabbled in coastal real estate before deciding to run for governor in 2002.


He founded Norton and Sanford Real Estate Investment in 1992 in Charleston. Beaufort County property records list more than 100 real estate transactions involving Sanford, many in the 1990s and involving family land.

When Sanford first ran for governor, he reported his net worth was $3 million. But his last congressional filing in 2000 shows that most of his accounts and holdings were attributed to his wife or children.

Under his wife's listings, for instance, were assets in Goldman Sachs, including between $250,000 and $500,000 in cash, between $250,000 and $500,000 in South Carolina municipal bonds, between $50,000 and $100,000 in U.S. Treasury securities and a variety of stocks. He also listed under her name a Sullivan Family Trust valued at between $50,000 and $100,000, Florida investments of between $250,000 and $500,000 and various partnerships or commercial rental investments.

Joint assets listed by Sanford in 2000 included three cash accounts ranging from $1,000 to $100,000.

Real estate holdings tied to him offer much the same picture.

Other than the mobile home, Sanford's name is listed only with family property left by his father or with property tied to his wife.

Altogether, holdings in the Sanford name total about $8 million in appraised value, most of it undeveloped land, according to Beaufort County property and tax records. But except for the mobile home, none are listed in his name only.

Various partnerships, primarily with his siblings, hold most of that value, according to the records, including a 495-acre portion of Coosaw appraised at $2.3 million, a 293-acre parcel at Coosaw valued at $2 million, a 614-acre tract known as Smith Tract LLC valued at $2.1 million, and a 170-acre tract valued at $1.1 million. He and his wife also own a five-acre parcel valued at about $53,000.

The couple's 4,400-square-foot home on Sullivan's Island, valued at nearly $2 million, is listed under Jenny Sanford's name, according to Charleston County tax records.

Woody Kapp, a partner in the Charleston real estate firm of Meyer Kapp & Associates, said he worked for the firm when Sanford worked there briefly before starting his own business. He said the Norton and Sanford brokerage has since disbanded.

"He was never, to my knowledge, that active in it," he said of Sanford's real estate experience. "It wouldn't surprise me, short of, you know, his links to his family, that there is not a lot of real estate holdings there."

Sanford's real estate license has been inactive since July 2001, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

When Sanford leaves office, he eventually will have available to him a congressional pension. Members must have served at least five years to receive a pension, which is calculated using the highest three years of salary and the number of years served.

He may also receive a military pension. He began serving in the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 2002 and carries the rank of captain.

And he would also be eligible to receive a modest state pension because he has served at least five years as governor.

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