Sanford decision sparks no questions

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster

Mary Ann Chastain

S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster appeared before Charleston's Sertoma Club on Wednesday but didn't get a single question about his big decision two days ago.

McMaster announced Monday he wouldn't pursue any criminal charges against Gov. Mark Sanford related to ethics issues that arose after Sanford returned from a secret visit to his mistress in Argentina.

As McMaster chatted with club members, the issue did come up, though. "Some people said, 'You did the right thing. It needed to be done,' " he said.

McMaster, himself a candidate for governor, had faced some pressure to make a decision.

In March, Sanford agreed to pay $74,000 in ethics fines, plus $36,500 toward the state's cost of investigating his alleged wrongdoings. The State Ethics Commission investigation found 37 cases where the governor may have used his public office or campaign funds for personal gain.

B.J. Boling, a spokesman for gubernatorial rival U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, said McMaster quickly makes a decision on politically popular positions, such as suing President Barack Obama over health care, "but when it's something that could be politically perilous, his decision-making process drags on and on and on."

DuBose Kapeluck, an assistant political science professor at The Citadel, said he doesn't expect McMaster's handling of the Sanford affair to have any bearing on the June 8 primary.

"I don't think it's on the top of voters' minds anymore," he said. "It would have been shocking if he did decide to go for criminal sanctions."

McMaster said he made the decision without regard to any political consequences.

He spent much of his Wednesday appearance talking in detail about his decision to join about 18 other state attorneys general in suing the federal government over constitutionality of the new mandate that individuals buy health insurance. McMaster called the law "extreme," adding, "If it's allowed to stand, we will have big problems."

McMaster also faces Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and state Rep. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington, in the June 8 GOP primary.