COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – Gov. Mark Sanford was charged Monday with 37 counts of using his public office for personal gain by the state Ethics Commission. The charges in the 17-page document range from Sanford allegedly using campaign funds to pay for a hunting junket in Ireland to flying halfway across South Carolina on a state plane to get a haircut.
Counts one through 18 pertain to international travel on commercial airline flights between September 2005 and April 2009 to destinations like China, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Argentina. In each case, the governor bought himself a ticket in business class rather than coach, the commission says.
South Carolina law requires public officials to book the lowest fare possible when traveling. In each case cited by the Ethics Commission, the more expensive tickets were purchased without any explanation to justify the upgrade.
Counts 19 through 26 focus on Sanford’s use of state aircraft to transport himself and others to events unrelated to state business.
These included flights from Columbia to Mount Pleasant, S.C., to participate in a book signing, then to Aiken, S.C., for a campaign contributor’s birthday party.
The Ethics Commission also said Sanford took two flights to attend Republican events around the state, along with a weekend getaway with his family between Lewisburg, W.Va., and Brunswick, Ga. The commission said the family also took a trip to the “soft opening” of the now-defunct Hard Rock Amusement Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Sanford is also accused of flying to North Myrtle Beach to get a haircut on March 10, 2006.
The Ethics Commission also accused Sanford of making several inappropriate withdrawals from his campaign fund after his re-election in 2006.
Most withdrawals were for less than $100, but the commission said Sanford took $854.90 to pay for his attendance at a Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami on Nov. 14, 2008, and a hunting trip to Dublin a few days later.
In January 2007, Sanford reimbursed himself $249.40 to attend the annual Alfalfa Club dinner in Washington, D.C., the commission said.
He withdrew $610 for a female staffer to attend the 2007 Republican Governors Association meeting in Dana Point, Calif., the commission said.
A total of $1,009 was taken from the campaign fund over the course of two years to pay for “direct marketing, telephone, cable Internet and cable services at the governor’s mansion,” the commission reported.
Sanford’s attorney, Butch Bowers, said in a written statement, “Today’s notice of hearing confirms that the Ethics Commission seeks additional information regarding about three dozen technical questions from the governor’s previous filings.
“We are confident that we will be able to address each of these questions, none of which constitutes findings of guilt and none of which we believe rise anywhere near to the traditional standard of impeachment, now that we finally have an opportunity to present our side of the story.
“We look forward to working with the Commission and resolving this matter. Moreover, we look forward to cooperating with the General Assembly as we proceed, and in that light we will provide a copy of the Commission’s investigative report in its entirety to the Speaker of the House later today,” Bowers wrote.
Sanford’s travel and use of campaign funds came under scrutiny after his five-day disappearance in June.
The governor initially told staffers he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail and told others he was getting away to write.
Upon his return to the United States, he admitted he’d left to rendezvous with an Argentine mistress.
The disclosure of the Ethics Commission’s charges against Sanford comes a day before seven members of the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee will meet to consider whether to impeach him.