COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – Gov. Mark Sanford’s attorney has released the full 1,300-page Ethics Commission report that led to the finding of 37 civil charges against the embattled governor – and has begun to outline his strategy for battling impeachment. The governor, who staked his reputation on fiscal conservatism, has been cited for using state aircraft for a family trip to an amusement park, reimbursing himself from campaign funds for a hunting trip in Ireland, and flying halfway across South Carolina in a state aircraft to get a haircut.
Sanford is accused of misusing public funds on commercial plane flights and the occasional frivolous use of state aircraft, and misusing campaign funds after his 2006 re-election.
If convicted of the charges after a hearing before the commission, Sanford could face about $74,000 in fines.
Before his personal life imploded this summer, Sanford was considered a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012.
In an email sent to Courthouse News Service late Monday night, Sanford’s attorney Butch Bowers stood by his client, writing that “when the full story is told, it will be clear that this administration has kept a consistent eye out for the taxpayer.”
Bowers added, “nothing the Ethics Commission is considering rises anywhere near the level of impeachment.”
“We feel vindicated that the issues of probable cause are limited to about three dozen minor, technical matters that do not include any allegations of criminal conduct,” he wrote.
About half of the charges against Sanford relate to his buying business and first-class tickets for himself for overseas trips on commercial flights.
Bowers said that in doing so the governor “simply followed a legislatively audited and long-held practice.”
Bowers called it “the same practice accepted over the last 30 years as business class tickets were used by the S.C. [Department of] Commerce staff, members of the House and Senate, governors and Secretaries of Commerce on overseas investment trips.”
Bowers said he looked forward to addressing the governor’s questionable use of state aircraft on nine occasions, “as we work toward closure with the Commission.”
Throughout the document, Bowers took pains to cast the number of charges against the far greater number of flights and campaign expenditures that were reviewed.
For instance, he said that no questions were raised in 97 percent of the 772 flights reviewed. Nor, he said, were questions raised about 98 percent of the 622 campaign expenditures reviewed.
In the latter case, Bowers said the $2,940 in campaign expenditures being questioned represent just 1/45th of 1 percent of the $13 million Sanford raised through various campaign committees.
The attorney dwelled at length on impeachment, a subject scheduled to be taken up later today (Tuesday) in Columbia by a select panel of the House Judiciary Committee.
They are expected to review the ethics report, and have the option to pass an impeachment resolution on to the full Judiciary Committee. That could set up an impeachment hearing during the 2010 Legislative Session.
As noted by Bowers, no governor of South Carolina has ever been impeached, and only two governors of other states have been impeached in the past 80 years. In both cases, the governors were first subjected to criminal felony charges, he said.
Bowers added, “the Constitution of South Carolina sets a high standard for impeachment of a governor – ‘serious crimes or serious misconduct’ – to make sure only the most egregious offenses would lead to impeachment, and not merely personal moral failings, neglect of duty or a temporary absence from the state.”
That referred to Sanford’s 5-day disappearance in June to rendezvous with his Argentine mistress.
“The 1895 Constitution had no clear standard for impeachment, so the ‘serious crimes’ standard was added to avoid impeachment for relatively minor crimes and misconduct,” Bowers added.
The South Carolina Ethics Commission’s report and additional documents attached by the governor’s office can be found at http://governorsanford.com/e-docs.html.
Here is Courthouse News’ Monday story on the Ethics Commission report.