- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2010

COLUMBIA, S.C. | South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has agreed to pay $74,000 in fines to resolve dozens of charges that he violated state ethics laws with his campaign spending and travel, including a taxpayer-funded rendezvous with his Argentine mistress, the State Ethics Commission said Thursday.

The commission brought the 37 civil charges against the Republican last year. Mr. Sanford, who is term-limited and will leave office in January, still could face criminal charges.

Mr. Sanford said in a statement he thinks he would have been vindicated if the commission had heard the case, but he didn’t want to continue what he called “an endless media circus.”

Scrutiny of Mr. Sanford’s travel started over the summer, when the then-married governor vanished for five days after telling some staff he was going hiking on the Appalachian Trail. He was actually in Argentina, and he returned to tearfully confess a yearlong affair with a woman he later told the Associated Press was his soul mate.

The agreement came within minutes of a judge’s decision Thursday afternoon finalizing Mr. Sanford’s divorce.

Mr. Sanford was considered a potential 2012 presidential candidate until the bombshells about the affair. Ensuing AP investigations questioned his use of state, commercial and private airplanes and bruised his image as a penny-pinching politician who once required staff to use both sides of Post-it notes.

After those investigations, the ethics panel charged him with improperly buying first- and business-class airline tickets, violating a state law requiring lowest-cost travel; improperly using state-owned aircraft for travel to political and personal events, including a stop at a discount hair salon; and improperly reimbursing himself with campaign cash.

Among the violations the commission claimed were:

c Approving the purchase of four first- and business-class commercial airline tickets for a June 2008 trip during which he met with his mistress in Argentina.

c Personal use of state-owned aircraft for trips such as the birthday party of a campaign contributor in Aiken.

c Reimbursing himself nearly $3,000 using campaign contributions, including about $900 for expenses to attend a Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami and a hunting trip in Ireland several days later.

Some of the allegations about Mr. Sanford’s use of campaign funds first were revealed by the State newspaper in Columbia.

Under the agreement, Mr. Sanford also agrees to compensate the Ethics Commission nearly $36,498 for its investigative costs. He also agrees to pay back: $18,000 to the state Department of Commerce for first- and business-class airfare; $7,792 to the Division of Aeronautics; and $1,003 for personal use of state-owned aircraft.

In addition, Mr. Sanford says he will pay $2,941 to his own campaign account as a reimbursement for personal use of campaign funds.

The governor’s signature on the consent agreement means he does not admit to violating state ethics laws but does not dispute the accusations either.

AP writers Jim Davenport and Bruce Smith contributed to this report.

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