Gov. Mark Sanford has reimbursed himself more than $1,800 for expenses from his campaign account in the past 18 months. But Sanford won't say what those expenses were.
Campaign records show Sanford reimbursed himself more than $1,100 about the same time as two 2008 trips to New York on which he said he met his Argentine lover, Maria Belen Chapur.
- Sanford claimed a $297.89 expense Oct. 7, 2008. Sanford told The Associated Press he met Chapur for two nights in New York City in September 2008.
- Another expense, $864.90, was claimed Nov. 3, 2008. Sanford told The Associated Press he met with Chapur in the Hamptons that same month.
Sanford also has reimbursed himself for more than $600 of additional expenses since January 2008.
None of Sanford's expenses is itemized in his campaign disclosures, filed with the State Ethics Commission. Instead, they are marked only as "reimbursement."
Under state law, it is illegal for a candidate to spend campaign money for personal use. State law also requires campaigns to maintain receipts for reimbursements for five years. But Sanford declined to turn those receipts, detailing what his expenses were for, over to The State. Open records experts say the receipts are covered by the state’s freedom of information law and must be made available to the public, including the media.
Sanford’s gubernatorial office did not respond to a State newspaper Freed of Information Act request filed July 8. His campaign, which still has more than $1.5 million on hand, declined to turn over receipts, writing Sanford already had complied with all state and federal campaign laws.
“Were these really reimbursements for actual expenditures or were these fabricated?” asked John Crangle with the government watchdog group Common Cause. Crangle noted elected officials in South Carolina and elsewhere previously have run into trouble for misusing campaign money.
‘MOST PEOPLE ARE VERY CAREFUL’
Sanford’s use of taxpayer — but not campaign — resources has been scrutinized since he disappeared for five days in June and later admitted an extra-marital affair with Chapur. Sanford subsequently repaid the state $3,300 for part of the cost of his airfare for a South American trade mission. Sanford met with Chapur during part of that trip.
A quickly completed State Law Enforcement Division inquiry found Sanford used no state money to visit Chapur. Sanford told SLED he paid cash for hotel and airfare on the New York and Hamptons trips.
Lawmakers and the Ethics Commission are looking into whether Sanford has broken state law while in office.
State Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville, concluded last week that Sanford broke state law when he used more expensive, business-class tickets to fly to foreign trade meetings. State law forbids use of first-class tickets; regulations require “coach or tourist class” airfare.
Thomas is also investigating Sanford’s use of state planes for personal and political use, which is barred by state law. Thomas has said he will continue to investigate. However, Thomas’ investigation lacks the power to subpoena witnesses or evidence.
Sanford spokesman Ben Fox, who works for the governor’s office and not Sanford’s campaign, would not say whether the governor used campaign money to meet with Chapur.
"I'm not commenting on campaign-related things," Fox said.
An unsigned e-mail from Sanford’s campaign said the governor has complied with state law, declining to make available his reimbursed campaign expenses.
"We are not going to set ourselves to some new standard on behalf of the media," the e-mail said, "and would therefore respectfully, and accordingly, ask you look under the filings posted with the ethics commission — just as you would with any other campaign."
Sanford deferred comment, citing the campaign statement. The Republican’s campaign did not respond to a request for a further interview.
State Ethics Commission chairman Herbert Hayden said campaigns are required to maintain receipts that itemize reimbursements for five years.
Those receipts are not filed with the agency, Hayden said, adding his agency has few resources to follow up or audit reimbursements.
Hayden said campaign funds may only be spent on items "directly related to their campaign or directly related to the function of your office."
Hayden said he did not know if the receipts are a public record.
But Columbia attorney Jay Bender, who specializes in media law and First Amendment issues, said the public is entitled to see the documents. (Among Bender’s clients are The State and the S.C. Press Association, of which The State is a member.)
"I can't imagine any reason they would not be covered" by open records laws, Bender said of the receipts. "There's nothing in the freedom of information law that exempts campaign filings ... from disclosure."
Jason Zacher, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said it is common for candidates to pay for campaign expenses out of pocket and later reimburse themselves.
"Most people are very careful," Zacher said of reimbursements, "because they know this stuff is public and because people eyeball this stuff."
'AN AWFUL LOT ... NEEDS TO SURFACE'
Attorney General Henry McMaster on Thursday asked the State Ethics Commission to look into Sanford’s use of state planes and other resources.
But some lawmakers want the state grand jury to take over the case.
State Democrats called the probe by the Ethics Commission, which operates in secret, a "farce."
They note Sanford appoints its nine members, who must be confirmed by the state Senate.
Three commissioners and a spouse of another also contributed to Sanford’s campaigns prior to their appointments.
Common Cause's Crangle said the questions about the campaign expenses are another reason a full investigation — by an authority with subpoena power — should be conducted.
"There's an awful lot that needs to surface," Crangle said, "and it looks like it won't."