- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford broke state law when he charged taxpayers for more expensive business and first-class flights, according to the chairman of the legislative committee investigating Mr. Sanford’s international travel.

State Sen. David Thomas, a Fountain Inn Republican whose budget committee investigated Mr. Sanford’s flights following reports last month by the Associated Press, sent evidence to Senate leaders Monday showing that the Republican governor violated state laws requiring the cheapest travel possible.

Mr. Thomas said Mr. Sanford’s more expensive flights on two trips cost the state $13,700 more than the economy class flights available.

Legislators can consider sanctions against Mr. Sanford ranging from demanding reimbursement to impeachment, Mr. Thomas said.

“It could be perceived, if it’s significant enough and a case can be made of it, to constitute a case for possible impeachment,” Mr. Thomas said Monday.

Mr. Sanford, 49, has been under increased scrutiny since admitting in June to having a mistress in Argentina. He’s vowed to stay in office and says he is trying to reconcile with his wife, who has moved out of the governor’s official residence to live at the family’s beach house with their sons.

Mr. Thomas, who has announced his candidacy for Congress, said the budget subcommittee that he chairs also will investigate Mr. Sanford’s use of state planes and report those findings later to lawmakers. The AP reported this week that Mr. Sanford used state aircraft for personal and political trips, a practice that is contrary to state law.

Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden and Democratic Rep. Boyd Brown of Winnsboro called for an investigation Monday.

Mr. Sanford’s staff has defended his use of the planes, saying he always traveled on state business and used the planes less frequently than his predecessors.

Mr. Thomas said he didn’t believe a single issue, including violating state law to travel business and first class, would trigger an impeachment process. Legislators likely would consider a combination of concerns, including Mr. Sanford’s business and first-class travel at state expense, use of state planes for personal and political trips and his mysterious disappearance earlier this year to visit his mistress in Argentina.

“It’s the whole array of all the things that we’ve seen over the past month,” said Mr. Thomas, who added that he wasn’t advocating impeachment or other sanctions. Mr. Thomas said he would not make any recommendation when submitting his findings to the Legislature, but only will present evidence to lawmakers for review.

“They could do nothing,” he said.

Last month, the AP reported that Mr. Sanford, who once criticized other state officials for costly travel, charged the state more than $37,600 for first-class and business-class flights overseas since November 2005 despite a state law requiring lowest-cost travel.

Mr. Thomas, chairman of the Constitutional and Administrative Subcommittee of Senate Finance, conducted his own investigation of the AP’s findings, focusing on state trips Mr. Sanford took to China in 2007 and London in 2006.

Mr. Sanford’s $12,172 charge for travel to China included business-class accommodations on United Airlines. The governor also flew in first class on a U.S. Airways flight to London in 2006 at a cost of $7,065, state records show.

Mr. Thomas said there is no documentation showing that the governor or anyone else reimbursed the state for the more expensive flights. Other state employees traveled in the less expensive economy class on those flights, he said.

Mr. Sanford charged the state $8,687 for a Delta Air Lines trip to Brazil last year that included a leg in the more expensive business class, state expense records show. He has since acknowledged visiting his mistress in Argentina during that trip, a trade mission planned by the state’s Commerce Department. After the publicity in June, Mr. Sanford reimbursed the state $3,300 for part of the trip.

Other state employees spent less than $2,000 each on economy seats for the Brazil flight, according to state records.

Mr. Thomas said that trip is not included in his findings because Mr. Sanford reimbursed the state.



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