COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford charged the state $131 for mileage to drive from his family's plantation in Beaufort County to Columbia for a news conference in December, according to travel vouchers obtained by a Columbia newspaper.
Meanwhile, a governor's office explanation that pricey air travel was approved years ago for the governor was disputed by a former economic development leader who sought clearance to avoid coach flights to Asia.
Federal tax laws don't allow someone to be reimbursed for traveling from home to work. But Sanford spokesman Ben Fox said Thursday the Lowcountry plantation is not Sanford's official home.
The vouchers from the comptroller general's office were obtained by The State newspaper. Sanford was at the plantation with his family on Dec. 31 when he drove to Columbia to discuss with reporters a compromise with the Employment Security Commission over a federal loan to help pay unemployment benefits.
The agreement ended a week of tense negotiations between the governor and the agency and came hours before the state was set to run out of money to write unemployment checks. The governor wanted more detailed records on people requesting unemployment help and questioned the accuracy of calculations on how many people were out of work. The agreement included an audit of the agency requested by Sanford.
The governor monitored the discussions carefully, but didn't want to interrupt his time with his family to stay in Columbia if there was going to be no end to the standoff, Fox said.
"The governor was out of town and he had state business to do," Fox said.
Sanford takes frequent trips and often spends holidays at the home, called Coosaw Plantation. Earlier this week at an Orangeburg Kiwanis Club meeting, the governor suggested he may move there when he leaves office.
The vouchers reviewed by the newspaper also included a $1,100 reimbursement from the state for a business-class plane ticket Sanford bought at a 2004 silent auction for a charity and used for a trade trip to Paris the next summer. Sanford paid the same amount for the ticket at the auction, Fox said.
Similar tickets at the time of the trip ranged from $3,000 to $7,000, Fox said. "He said, look I can save the taxpayers a good chunk of money, so he used that for that flight and got reimbursed for the out-of-pocket expenses," Fox said.
Sanford's travel expenses have been under fire since he admitted in June to having an affair with an Argentinian woman that included a trip to her country during a trade mission to South America last year. The governor paid back nearly $3,000 to cover lodging, meals and airfare for that trip.
Other questions have been raised about the governor's travels since then, and a state Ethics Commission probe is under way, based in part on Associated Press investigations into state, commercial and private plane flights.
On Tuesday, Sanford lawyer Swati Patel said in a letter that a brief, handwritten note in the margin of a 1987 letter by J. Mac Holladay cleared the way for the governor to use pricey plane seats instead of the low-cost travel required by state laws. At the time, Holladay was the director of the State Development Board, an independent agency with no direct ties to the governor that was the forerunner to the current, Cabinet-level Commerce Department.
Holladay said in the letter to then Comptroller General Earle Morris that he and his boss didn't have the "luxury of building in recuperation time" after long flights overseas. In the letter's top right margin, someone wrote "Approved by Mr. Morris 6-22-87" with "business class travel, for director and chairman only." Patel said that shows Sanford's pricey travel complied with standards Morris set.
Holladay said Thursday his letter was only about travel for his board's two top officers, not the governor, and particularly for flights to Korea, Japan and Taiwan. "I don't remember it ever being a question," Holladay said. "My recollection is the airlines offered to upgrade the governor to first class when we went."
At the time, former Govs. Dick Riley and Carroll Campbell, got free airline upgrades to pricier seats because the board will fill rows on the plane in lower-cost seats with staff and business leaders, Holladay said.
And governors almost always went directly from the airport to meetings. A review of Sanford's itineraries with the Commerce Department show that happened just once in eight trips. "That's very unusual. We were trying to get every moment we could when we are on the ground," Holladay said.