COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – Gov. Mark Sanford agreed on Thursday to pay $74,000 in fines to resolve ethics charges stemming from his taxpayer-funded rendezvous with his Argentine mistress and other improper uses of taxpayer and campaign money. Sanford issued his statement just hours after a judge granted Jenny Sanford’s request to divorce her husband of 20 years.
The governor’s sad domestic saga began in June 2009 when he disappeared for five days, then re-emerged to tearfully reveal his extramarital affair.
The State Ethic Commission brought 37 civil charges against Sanford, accusing him, among other things, of buying first- and business-class airline tickets – violating a state law requiring lowest-cost travel; using state-owned aircraft to travel to political and personal events, including a stop at a Myrtle Beach barber; and improperly reimbursing himself with campaign cash.
In a lengthy statement, the term-limited governor – who was once considered a contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination – said, “I have both tried to apologize and take full responsibility for my personal failing, as I know I let so many down in all that unfolded since this past summer.
“That said, I think it’s important at this point to distinguish between a personal failure and the use of tax dollars.”
Sanford added that despite his signing the consent order and agreeing to the fines, “I maintain my belief in the innocence of my actions being judged by the Ethics Commission.
“It is worth noting that the ‘probable cause’ determination used by the Ethics Commission considers whether or not there is a case to be looked at, not guilt or innocence. 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.”
Sanford said he was disturbed that the Ethics Commission chose “to judge me by a different standard than any governor over the last 30 years” in regard to the airline tickets.
In doing so, Sanford said, “an unelected board” was allowed to make a “retroactive change” in longstanding practice “and hold others accountable for it.”
“I believe this sets exceedingly bad precedent going forward,” Sanford said.
He concluded that while he believes he would have been vindicated had the Ethics Commission had heard his case, “It’s time to move on.”
To do otherwise, he said, “would subject the people of South Carolina to more of what at times has seemed an endless media circus.”
Sanford will leave office in January 2011. He could face criminal charges on his use of taxpayer money, but that’s considered unlikely.
A spokesman said on Thursday that Attorney General Henry McMaster’s inquiry is continuing and would not be affected by Sanford’s agreeing to pay the civil fines.
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