COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford has settled charges that he broke state ethics laws, admitting no guilt but agreeing to pay $74,000 in fines.
The governor also agreed to pay $66,223 to reimburse the cost of the state investigation into his travel and to pay for his use of state aircraft, expensive airline tickets and misspent campaign money.
Sanford's use of state assets and campaign money prompted the State Ethics Commission to charge the two-term Republican governor with 37 state ethics violations in November. The violations carried a maximum fine of $74,000, the amount Sanford agreed to pay.
In the agreement, released Thursday, the Ethics Commission issued a public reprimand to the governor and disagreed with his argument that he broke no laws.
Also Thursday, a Charleston County family court judge finalized Sanford's divorce from his wife, Jenny, after 20 years of marriage. The judge sealed the couple's financial agreement regarding property and custody of their four children.
Sanford's legal, political and family woes stem from a clandestine, five-day June trip to Argentina, where he met his lover. Sanford later admitted he had been carrying on a yearlong affair and his story of hiking the Appalachian Trail was a ruse to cover his whereabouts. Sanford subsequently rebuffed calls by much of the General Assembly for his resignation and survived a House impeachment bid.
Sanford still faces a pending investigation by Attorney General Henry McMaster's office into whether he broke any criminal laws. Ethics charges involve only civil charges. Sanford previously reimbursed the state $3,300 for airfare for a 2008 South America trade trip, sponsored by the state Commerce Department, during which he met his lover.
"Our review is unaffected (by the settlement), and is ongoing," said Mark Plowden, a spokesman for McMaster.
In a statement, Sanford argued he did nothing wrong and the Ethics Commission judged him by a different standard than other governors.
That has been the consistent argument by Sanford and his attorneys.
"I continue to maintain my belief in the innocence of my actions being judged by the Ethics Commission," Sanford said in a statement. "On the one time thus far that my full arguments and defenses were considered (by the House Impeachment Committee), 32 of the 37 Ethics Commission findings were dismissed.
"I don't believe continuing this is in the best interest of the state, my boys, the ideas I believe in - or those who support those ideas, and for these reasons, I have signed the consent order."
Others said the consent agreement was an admission that Sanford knew he was wrong.
"The fact that he signed the consent order, there's clearly some issue," said state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens.
The Ethics Commission charged Sanford with violating state ethics laws by buying business class tickets against state law, using state aircraft for political or personal trips, and using campaign money improperly.
S.C. House lawmakers held impeachment hearings to investigate but decided only to formally rebuke the governor.
Martin said it was unlikely the Senate would take up the Sanford censure approved by the House, and likely would move on from the now nine-month ordeal.
"I don't see the Legislature wading into it," Martin said of remaining questions about Sanford's use of state resources.
But Martin said lawmakers should consider clarifying rules governing the use of state aircraft and business class tickets since the consent order would not set a precedent.
"We should clear the air for future governors," he said, "so we don't find ourselves in the same situation down the road."