- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2009

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford was hit Monday with formal charges of 37 ethics violations, further imperiling the career of a man once eyed as a Republican presidential contender who now fights for mere political survival in his home state.

The litany of ethics charges - spending campaign contributions on himself, flying in state aircraft on personal trips, buying seat upgrades on commercial airlines with taxpayer money - only add momentum to the drive to oust the Republican governor.

He has been dogged by accusations of wrongdoing since he went missing for five days in June and returned to tearfully admit to an affair with a woman in Argentina. He later said that his Argentine mistress was his “soul mate.”

Mr. Sanford will have a chance to defend himself against the civil charges at a closed-door State Ethics Commission hearing, and the state attorney general has yet to decide whether to bring criminal charges.

“This is another embarrassing day for South Carolina, but it’s been clear for some time that Mark Sanford doesn’t mind embarrassing the state he was elected to lead,” South Carolina Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler said. “Democrats have said for months that if the governor cared about South Carolina, he would step down.”

The resignation calls also come from the governor’s own party, including a resolution filed by four Republican lawmakers to force Mr. Sanford from office for “dereliction of duty.” The resolution focuses on the governor’s absence from the state in June, telling his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while actually on a romantic getaway to Argentina.

A state House committee is scheduled to take up the measure Tuesday.

Mr. Sanford has repeatedly dismissed calls to step down.

The governor’s office did not return a call seeking comment.

His attorney discounted the 37-count complaint as “technical questions.”

“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,” lawyer Butch Bowers told the Associated Press.

The ethics charges, which carry a maximum $74,000 in fines, range from pocketing $40 from a campaign fund without proper receipts to using state aircraft nine times for personal trips to spending $860 in campaign funds to attend a Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami and then a hunting trip in Dublin.

He is accused of converting about $97 in campaign funds to his personal use in January to pay for what the complaint described as “direct marketing” expenses and for a ticket to the inauguration of President Obama.

The complaint also cites three withdrawals from campaign accounts in 2008 totaling $759 for direct marketing, telephone and/or cable service at the governor’s mansion.

Nearly half of the charges are for using taxpayer money to upgrade from coach to business- or first-class seats on 18 airline flights since 2005 “when no exigencies existed to justify an upgrade,” according to the complaint, which was the product of a three-month investigation.

The governor’s personal life continues to show signs of disarray. The first lady and their four sons moved out of the governor’s mansion. Despite Mr. Sanford’s claim that he and his wife are trying to reconcile their marriage, Jenny Sanford describes their status as “separated.”

Mrs. Sanford reportedly is writing a book about her life and her husband’s betrayal.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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