Mark Sanford: Critics not putting ethics fine, finances in perspective

Special to the Packet and GazetteMarch 12, 2013 

In this file photo, former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican candidate for the 1st District seat, arrives to speak at the Hilton Head Island Republican Club's luncheon.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr, staff photo

Getting into this race, I knew there was going to be some incoming fire directed at my candidacy from opponents, and on occasion from the media looking to spike readership by re-hashing some of the more sensational -- though not always accurate -- events of the past.

My personal failures of that time have been well chronicled and while that original moral failure was completely mine, that doesn't make it right for some in politics or even the media to leave off details that by their omission can alter perceptions.

Your March 3 story ("Sanford's past questioned as race heats up") left out a few important details.

Critics mention me paying the state's largest ethics fine ever but don't describe what brought this about -- business-class tickets tied to overseas economic development trips across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. These tickets were used in the exact same fashion by every other governor, secretary of commerce, senior-level staff and even members of the legislature since business-class tickets became available.

There was no question of the appropriateness of these trips. It was just that there was an unknown code that prohibited their use that the Ethics Commission had not enforced with Democrats or Republicans for more than 25 years -- but elected to enforce with me. In fact, the Legislative Audit Council, the legislative body's oversight arm, conducted an audit of the Department of Commerce in 2002 and 2004, and though many business-class tickets were used, it said it "did not find any material noncompliance with state regulations."

Nonetheless, I paid a $2,000 fine for each of those flights, but even the House of Representatives in its investigation dismissed every one of those flight charges. I had developed more than a few opponents in the House, and it was hardly my fan club, yet even they said the charges did not make sense -- and I think this context matters.

Similarly, the Ethics Commission had 10 questions on campaign finances; the House again dismissed every one -- just as the Attorney General and SLED had done in their reviews. I still paid a $2,000 fine for a $40, not reimbursed expense from the 2006 campaign, and for nine other similar items.

There were questions on use of the state plane, which the House ultimately narrowed to our judgment on five flights over almost seven years. I think we got them right, but even if I was wrong on every one, context matters. They questioned 2 percent of the 350 flights taken and found no issue with the other 98 percent. I stand by decisions, such as flying from Columbia to Myrtle Beach for the opening of the largest single tourism investment in our state, but again paid $2,000 per flight, given their view. We also took far fewer flights than my predecessors, flying a full one-third less than Govs. Jim Hodges and David Beasley and one-half less than Gov. Carroll Campbell.

I also tried to go the extra mile and was the first governor to use the single-engine Cessna that the S.C. Department of Natural Resources owns. Its costs are one-seventh that of the King Air owned by the state. Given the 70 hours flown, that represented a savings to taxpayers of more than $60,000. We also ended the practice of relocating the state plane to Owens Field in Columbia. It meant five more minutes in the car, but a taxpayer savings of another $70,000. We also sold the state's corporate jet. Its usage costs alone in the previous administration exceeded the cost of all flight travel expenses during our entire administration.

Overall, our administration had the lowest state travel expenses of any governor over the last 30 years, and 63 percent less than the previous administration.

Many people want to cut government spending on things far from them, which they don't feel. But we looked first to what was right around us -- such as cutting funding at the Governor's Mansion by $1 million, beginning a rental program on the grounds that saved $700,000, sending a BMW that had traditionally been used by the governor's family to the Highway Patrol and a whole lot more.

None of this absolves me of my own sins and failings, but it points to a very different picture on watching out for the taxpayer than the one painted in your story.

Former Gov. Mark Sanford is a Republican candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat.

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