Sanford avoids criminal charges

Gov. Mark Sanford visited county with highest jobless rate on Tuesday.

Mary Ann Chastain

COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford's nearly yearlong nightmare has come to an official end.

Sanford was cleared Monday of any criminal wrongdoing alleged in the months after he confessed to an extramarital affair last June. The lame-duck governor said he wants to move past the distraction and focus on economic development, job creation and government restructuring before he leaves office in January.

Attorney General Henry McMaster, a Republican candidate for governor, said Sanford violated the spirit of the law in some instances but that his office could not find evidence that Sanford committed any crimes. He called on the Legislature to clarify existing laws about when a governor can ride first or business class on a commercial flight, decide what constitutes personal use of campaign cash and distinguish the difference between personal travel and official business on state aircraft.

About the same time as McMaster revealed his findings, the governor accompanied Boeing Co. officials in North Charleston to announce a new interior-parts factory for 787

Dreamliner jets and the creation of an additional 50 jobs, on top of the 3,800 that are expected with the aeronautics giant's expansion in the Lowcountry.

Sanford said that despite his moral failings, he has been able to move forward as chief executive.

"I'd again thank the people across this state who have daily impacted me with their grace and determination," he said in a statement. "Their support and the message they've carried have not been lost, and indeed it's that common-sense message of reform that propels me to urge a redoubling of efforts here in the final weeks of this year's legislative session."

Sanford recently paid $74,000 in fines from the State Ethics Commission and nearly an additional $36,500 to cover the court fees and costs of the commission's investigation into his alleged wrongdoings. The commission found that probable cause existed to charge Sanford with 37 counts of using his public office for personal financial gain and using campaign funds for personal expenses, but the governor settled the matter before it went to a hearing.

Sanford also was required as part of his agreement with the Ethics Commission to pay $18,000 to the state Commerce Department for commercial airplane tickets in first and business class; about $8,000 to the state Aeronautics Division for alleged personal use of state-owned planes; and $1,000 to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources for trips on the agency's plane.

In addition, he reimbursed his campaign about $3,000 for cash he spent on personal expenses such as telephones and Internet.

Sanford's travel was called into question after he admitted June 24 to a yearlong affair with an Argentine woman. Investigations by The Associated Press led to the Ethics Commission's probe.

The governor was censured by the House, but the Senate never acted on the legislation to issue a formal rebuke. The State Law Enforcement Division exonerated Sanford in July.

Sanford's wife, Jenny, divorced him in March.

McMaster investigated Sanford's use of first-class plane tickets on business travel, his use of campaign cash, his failure to disclose free plane rides on private aircraft, the governor's family's use of the state planes and Sanford's personal use of state aircraft.

To reach the conclusion, McMaster and his staff reviewed the charges against the governor by the State Ethics Commission, more than 3,000 pages of records and interviews with public and private officials. The investigation took five months.

McMaster said it is time for the state to move on.

"After conducting a thorough investigation, the evidence does not support beyond a reasonable doubt that governor knowingly, willfully and intentionally set out to break state law, which is the criminals prosecutorial standard that must be reached," McMaster said in prepared remarks to a room full of reporters and television cameras at the attorney general's office on Statehouse grounds. "A criminal prosecution is not appropriate under these circumstances and we do not believe a criminal conviction could be obtained."

The Legislature should clarify state laws with regard to air travel by a governor, McMaster said. The way the laws are written contributed to the lack of evidence to criminally charge the governor, he said.

Many bills were introduced in the Legislature that address issues raised after Sanford's scandal broke, but most have not been acted on this year. The legislation includes a bill that calls for the joint election of the governor and lieutenant governor, another to define clearly when power transfers to the lieutenant governor and one that would set new security standards for the governor and lieutenant governor.