South Carolina Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Henry McMaster said this morning that he has asked the State Ethics Commission to investigate Gov. Mark Sanford’s use of state aircraft.
McMaster said the request for an investigation “had to be made, with all the reports in the news. It had to be done.”
The Associated Press reported Monday that Sanford “... used state aircraft for personal and political trips, often bringing along his wife and children — contrary to state law regarding official use...”
The AP said state records showed that Sanford took trips on state aircraft to locations of his children’s sporting events, hair and dentist appointments, political party gatherings and a birthday party for a campaign donor. Sanford has said the reports were taken out of context, and said the AP was challenging just two percent of time he has spent on state aircraft.
“Anyone with a busy and intertwined life can be made to look foolish if one ignores the larger context of travel within the state...” Sanford said in a column published today in The Post in Courier.
Before questions were raised about the governor’s use of state-owned aircraft, state lawmakers already were probing the governor’s use of state funds for business-class and first-class tickets on commercial flights.
On Monday, State Sen. David Thomas, whose budget committee investigated Sanford’s commercial flights following earlier reports by The Associated Press, sent evidence to Senate leaders arguing the Republican governor violated state laws requiring the cheapest travel possible.
Sanford spokesman Benjamin Fox said Thomas’ conclusions that the governor broke the law “blatantly overreach and accordingly are, in our view, not correct.”
The Ethics Commission investigation requested by McMaster focuses on the governor’s use of state-owned aircraft, which must be used only for official business.
“I guess the only thing I can say is that we have received a letter from the attorney general asking that the commission investigation,” said State Ethics Commission Executive Director Herbert R. Hayden, Jr. “If they feel there is sufficient information to warrant an investigation, then one will be conducted.”
“Anything from that point would be confidential until there is a final disposition, or until the governor waives his right to confidentiality,” he said.
Fox could not immediately be reached for comment this morning.
Read more in Friday’s editions of The Post and Courier.