COLUMBIA — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's started the year wanting to cut $724,000 from the budget of South Carolina's public television station.
Instead, the governor's battle with state lawmakers over accepting $700 million in federal stimulus cash brought national cable and network news attention — and $45,000 to ETV for use of its studio facilities and satellite time.
ETV's charges came as it lost a quarter of its state cash and more than a fifth of its staff in the midst of $1 billion of state budget cuts. ETV even worried about how it would come up with the cash to keep the satellite lease used by Sanford, but mostly intended to beam education programs to classrooms.
But because Sanford lost his ballyhooed fight to keep the state from tapping the stimulus cash during the next two years, ETV will pick up even more money — $540,000 to cover satellite costs.
ETV President David Crouch chuckles when asked about the change of fortunes.
He doesn't know exactly what the profit was from Sanford's appearances, but said, "We probably do make little bit of money off of it."
Sanford cable networks appearances through ETV have become more frequent since he took on the federal stimulus issue after November's election.
ETV billed for 46 appearances between November and mid-May, according to records the agency gave The Associated Press.
Sanford's stance made him a favorite of conservative hosts, including Fox News shows and MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, who Sanford got to know during his three terms in the U.S. House. Fox News accounted for 31 of the billed appearances with a total cost of $24,000. MSNBC had six Sanford billings costing $8,525.
Sanford doesn't seek out those appearances, said Joel Sawyer, the governor's spokesman.
"We're an invited guest on those shows," he said.
Sanford, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, raised his national political profile and talk of a 2012 White House bid in the process. He became the nation's only governor to sue to prevent his state from getting money intended mostly for education. Sanford deemed it would saddle the nation with debt and devalue the dollar.
Back home, even Republicans have criticized Sanford for spending too much time making political points on the stimulus fight.
The stimulus fight had nothing to do with politics, Sawyer noted. "It's totally policy," Sawyer said. "Anybody who has been watching the governor for the past 15 years that he has been involved in political life knows this is not a new tune."
But Mullins McLeod, a Democrat and Charleston lawyer running for the office term-limited Sanford leaves in 2011, said the governor should be spending more time taking care of the job he has. With the state ranking third nationally in unemployment, "we need the governor to be focusing on helping families that are hurting right now. Instead, he's been on the air for months raising his national profile and furthering his national political ambitions."
Sawyer dismissed the criticism. "If people cared what Mr. McLeod thought, maybe they'd be asking to interview him, too."