Forest owner seeking input

County Line Road bisects the rural East Edisto tract. Its owner, MeadWestvaco Corp., is gearing up for a second round of public forums under its effort to develop a master plan for the property.

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is using an Internet site to respond to questions raised by three Associated Press investigations and a state lawmaker about his travels on commercial aircraft and his use of state and private airplanes.

The AP investigations, which have led to a state Ethics Commission probe and contributed to calls for Sanford's resignation, stemmed from a review of public records including flight logs and schedules that showed the governor:

--Used pricey commercial airline tickets for state travel despite rules requiring lowest-cost airfare;

--Flew on state planes to personal and political events despite requirements the aircraft only are used for official business; and,

--Failed to disclose private plane flights on ethics and campaign finance forms.

Sanford's more than 2,700-word letter to supporters at details the two-term Republican's challenges to media accounts of his practices. However, not all of his contentions hold water:

SANFORD: High-priced seats on international flights have long been a standard practice in state government. The "Legislative Audit Council (LAC), the legislative body's oversight arm, conducted an audit of the Department of Commerce in 2002 and 2004 -- and though there were many business class tickets purchased during this time, the LAC's analysis said that 'we did not find material noncompliance with state travel regulations." '

FACT: "The purpose of the audit was not specifically to look at first class or business travel," Legislative Audit Council Director Tom Bardin said Friday. Bardin could recall no detailed examination of that topic and noted auditors reviewed only small samples of travel receipts. The 2004 report was a follow-up to see how the Department of Commerce and Legislature had implemented recommendations in the 2002 audit and there was no detailed review of business class tickets, he said.

SANFORD: The media has cast doubt on only seven of 353 hours flown on state planes during his two terms.

FACT: The Associated Press reviewed records for 495 hours of flights that were listed on logs and manifests maintained by the Aeronautics Division and flight logs at the Department of Natural Resources. Official certifications by the governor's office were compared with the governor's personal calendar, which revealed dozens of flights that involved use of state planes for travel to or from political and personal events, not just the few hours of flights cited in the AP report.

SANFORD: News reports say the governor flew back to "my favorite hair salon" and to a dentist appointment. Sanford said he didn't rush back to Columbia to get a haircut and stopped by his dentist when he chipped a tooth and was heading to a television interview.

FACT: Sanford's office declined to comment on specifics of the AP findings before the report on his questionable use of state aircraft. He has yet to offer explanations for other flights, including a flight to Aiken to attend a birthday party for a top donor and a plane from Bishopville to Charlotte after a son's football game.

SANFORD: News accounts criticizing him for not disclosing some flights on private planes are wrong "because the law is clear that if a friend or family member provides the flight you don't have to. My brother has indeed flown me many times as he is a pilot with his own plane, and the reality of life is that one doesn't climb to the position that I have been blessed to be in without friends."

FACT: Flights provided by the governor's family members were excluded from The Associated Press story on private plane disclosures. That investigation focused on people who provided Sanford with flights and whose relationships with the governor did not transcend his office. Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor and former State Ports Authority Chairman Bill Stern, for instance, said they had no friendship with the governor before he took office.

SANFORD: The Comptroller General reviews and approves expenditures. "Very legitimately, no red flags have been raised on the purchase of airplane tickets like these since 1987, when the head of Commerce at that time sought and received an affirmative opinion from the Comptroller General to purchase at least business class tickets."

FACT: Jim Holly, the agency's chief of staff, said last week it is up to agencies to properly report spending and the agency can't review all travel expenditures.