State taxpayers have paid at least $70,000 for Gov. Mark Sanford's out-of-state and overseas trips, including last year's economic development mission to Argentina during which he met his mistress, state records show.
Since taking office in 2003, Sanford has taken at least one major international trip a year, flying to China, Japan, Great Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Brazil and several other countries, documents from the state Comptroller General's Office show.
In 2007, he touched down on two continents, attending the Paris Air Show that June and an economic forum in China a few months later. On these long trips, Sanford often flew business class at a cost of several thousand dollars a ticket, receipts for these trips show.
Sanford typically was accompanied by several aides on these trips, including Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor and his predecessor, Robert Faith. None of the records show the state paying for any of the governor's family to fly with him.
These costs are in addition to the more than $380,000 in expenses the governor's office has tallied using the state's plane to fly Sanford, his staff and family on hundreds of flights throughout South Carolina and other states.
Sanford has long railed against excessive government spending, including taxpayer-financed junkets. After he was elected to Congress in 1994, he told The Post and Courier how he agonized about a 1995 trip to Chile, Brazil and Argentina. "I know politically it's not the right thing ever to go on any trip," he said at the time.
As a congressman, and later as governor, Sanford became a frequent flyer. As governor, he took most of his trips in the summer or fall when the Legislature was out of session. Commerce Department documents show they were organized mainly to lure investment to the state. Notable destinations include:
• A trip July 16-18, 2006, to the Farnborough Air Show outside London. The Commerce Department said Sanford also held a dinner with a business prospect. The governor's tab for his airfare alone: $7,063.
• The Paris Air Show and Germany June 16-24, 2007, where the governor and aides held meetings with business and government officials. Sanford canceled meetings in Stockholm and returned early because of the Sofa Super Store fire. Sanford's plane tickets cost $9,890.
• Poland and Germany in April, where Sanford and aides met with BMW executives and government officials. Sanford's costs were $5,035. He also returned early from that trip, this time because of the wildfires in Myrtle Beach.
• The most publicized trip, however, has been the economic development mission Sanford took to Brazil and Argentina June 21-27 last year. Sanford's air fare was $8,687, credit card receipts show. During the trip, Sanford secretly met Maria Belen Chapur, his mistress. Sanford recently paid back about $3,000, which he said was the Argentine leg's cost. The State Law Enforcement Division recently determined that Sanford violated no criminal laws in the use of state money on that trip.
Sanford is by no means the only governor who includes overseas and out-of-state travel as an important part of his or her job description.
In recent months, questions have been raised about Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's traveling for fundraisers as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. An Associated Press review of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's travel records found that taxpayers paid for security details to accompany him on Republican Party fundraising trips and an appearance with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show." Last year, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin took heat for her travels, including a trip in 2007 to New York City for a leadership conference. The state paid for one of her children to travel with her and a three-night stay in a $707-a-day hotel room.
Sanford's supporters have said that his travel more than paid for itself by bringing jobs to the state. South Carolina has recruited more than 83,000 jobs and $18 billion in capital investments by companies during the governor's two terms, according to the Commerce Department.
So far, the state has received no tangible economic benefit from the Argentine trip, according to Kara Borie, commerce marketing and communication manager for the commerce department.