Ethics panel: Sanford premature to block report

Gov. Mark Sanford tries to keep the media back as he makes his way to the State House after a June 26 Cabinet meeting.
Gov. Mark Sanford tries to keep the media back as he makes his way to the State House after a June 26 Cabinet meeting. AP

The State Ethics Commission says Gov. Mark Sanford is premature in trying to block the release of its preliminary investigation into allegations against the two-term Republican governor. The commission also says the case should not be decided by the S.C. Supreme Court.

The commission made its arguments in a mid-day filing with the Supreme Court.

Sanford asked the S.C. Supreme Court last week to prevent the Ethics Commission from turning over its preliminary report, similar to an indictment, to lawmakers should they begin impeachment proceedings against him. The Ethics Commission is looking into Sanford's use of state planes and other resources as well as campaign money.

Sanford's five-day disappearance in June and later admission of an extramarital affair spurred media investigations that led to the Ethics Commission inquiry.

Attorneys for the commission argue Sanford has taken his case to the S.C. Supreme Court too soon. There are ways to prevent the political and legal damage that Sanford says could occur if the Ethics Commission report is released, other than for the state’s highest court to intervene, they argue.

In particular, commission attorneys say, the nine-member Ethics Commission has yet to decide whether to turn over the report to lawmakers. That decision only will made once the report is finished and only if the S.C. House has begun impeachment proceedings against Sanford, as lawmakers have threatened.

Sanford has argued the report could be used against him politically, undermining his defense in any impeachment hearings.

"Until the report is prepared and issued," Ethics Commission attorneys wrote, "the governor's allegations are only speculative and conjectural."

Ethics attorneys also argue House impeachment investigators could subpoena the information in the report in any event. And they contend Sanford should take his case to lower courts before asking the Supreme Court to rule.

Earlier today, the S.C. House asked the Supreme Court for permission to intervene in the case.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell said lawmakers want to protect their access to the ethics report and ensure an open investigation. The report and investigation could become the basis of House impeachment hearings against Sanford.

Sanford wants the preliminary Ethics Commission report kept secret.

However, secrecy isn’t the answer, Harrell argues.

“This issue is too important for us allow it to be done in secret,” Harrell said in a written statement. “If the governor succeeds in breaking his promise to keep this process transparent, it will cause all of this to drag on and on. It is time to get this behind us and move on.”

In August, Sanford agreed to waive confidentiality surrounding the Ethics Commission investigation. Doing so allowed the commission to disclose it had started an investigation and its scope. The work of Ethics Commission investigators subsequently has been done in secret.

Sanford has argued state law allows only prosecutors to see the commission’s preliminary report. The Ethics Commission has argued the House becomes a prosecutor when it begins impeachment hearings and would be eligible to receive the report.

Sanford's attorneys have until noon Tuesday to respond to the Ethics Commission and House filings made today.