Missing from 3,900 pages of Gov. Mark Sanford’s staff e-mails is any discussion of the event that spurred the records search: Sanford’s six-day disappearance and later admission of an extra-marital affair.
Only a handful of the e-mails refer to the then-secret June trip to Argentina. And there is no internal staff discussion of Sanford’s whereabouts during his absence.
Communications experts say it is unlikely Sanford’s staff could limit its communications during a crisis to phone and face-to-face discussions, raising the question of whether Sanford — who promised to bring more sunshine to S.C. government — has been less than forthcoming.
“It’s a very legitimate suspicion,” said Brian McGee, chairman of the communications department at the College of Charleston. “Complex organizations in the 21st century are highly dependent on e-mail.”
Under state law, documents, e-mail and other communication by public officials using state-funded means are public records. The law does include some exceptions, such as attorney-client discussions, economic development plans and others.
Among the stacks of e-mails are many that direct Sanford to check his personal e-mail account.
“Please check your comcast account,” spokesman Joel Sawyer wrote March 17 in the subject line of an e-mail to one of Sanford’s state e-mail accounts.
“Can’t right now,” Sanford replies. “Send here?”
The records do not indicate another message was sent in response.
On another occasion, in November of last year, an e-mail was sent to at least two of Sanford’s state e-mail accounts asking him to check his Comcast account.
In a letter to reporters that accompanied Wednesday’s release of the e-mails and cited exemptions to state open records laws, Sanford’s staff attorney said his office only released messages sent on state e-mail accounts “that are not personal in nature.”
Sawyer noted 174 of the nearly 3,900 pages of e-mails turned over to reporters late Wednesday came from the governor’s private e-mail account.
Sanford’s attorney combed through the private e-mail account and released all of Sanford’s e-mails relevant to conducting the state’s business, Sawyer said.
“We took a very broad interpretation of what doing the business of the state meant,” Sawyer said, adding the e-mails released include unsolicited advice from constituents.
Sawyer said there are no internal staff e-mails about the scandal because Sanford’s staff is small and often communicates face to face.
However, the e-mails also show Sanford’s staff often uses personal accounts for state business, such as sending Sanford daily news clippings.
But Sawyer said the governor’s office does not have a policy of routinely using private e-mail addresses to avoid public disclosures under state open records laws.
Instead, most policy decisions are made face-to-face, Sawyer said.
But Charleston’s McGee said that to avoid e-mail would be to assume Sanford’s office operates under the technological limits of 1994.
“What would be the motivation for state officials to refer each other to private e-mail?” McGee asked, adding such private e-mail communications are more likely to avoid public disclosure.
“It’s wildly unlikely, for even a small office, in which there would be no discussion of the absence of senior management.”
Staff writer Gina Smith contributed to this report. Reach O’Connor at (803) 771-8358.