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Ethics Board Finds Cause to Proceed on Sanford

COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) - The state Ethics Commission believes there's "probable cause" for Gov. Mark Sanford to face charges of violating state law in his travel and use of campaign funds. The announcement capped a bad week for Sanford, which also saw the filing of a resolution of impeachment by a fellow Republican lawmaker.

The Ethics Commission, which met in a daylong closed session Wednesday, did not provide details of its deliberations or what specific charges Sanford face during a hearing the body will likely schedule for early January, shortly before the Legislature reconvenes.

Herb Hayden, the commission's executive director, said those details will be released next week.

"[The Commission] found probable cause exists on several allegations," Hayden told reporters after the meeting. "However, it should be pointed out that a finding of probable cause is not a finding of guilt. It is only one phase in the process."

Sanford's travel and use of campaign funds have been under scrutiny since he disappeared for five days in June to rendezvous with his Argentine mistress.

An investigation by The Associated Press concluded that the governor violated prohibitions on use of state aircraft and using state funds to buy high-priced tickets for commercial flights.

Sanford calls his investigation grossly unfair and says his practices were in line with those of his predecessors.

Not to be outdone, The State newspaper, which covers the Capitol region, said it uncovered evidence that Sanford received questionable personal reimbursements from a campaign account.

But whether Sanford's removal will ever come to pass is still very much an open question.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Republican from Charleston, said in a statement that "unless the [commission's] investigation contains new information about serious crimes or misconduct by the governor, the information we have to date does not rise to a level to remove him from office."

Sanford, who is married, was considered a contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination until his personal life imploded.

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