Politics & Government

Sanford staffers used private e-mail to talk state business

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford speaks at a press conference said lawmakers are deliberately distorting state budget figures to build their case for accepting $700 million in federal stimulus money in Columbia, South Carolina, Thursday, April 2, 2009. (Tim Dominick/The State/MCT)
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford speaks at a press conference said lawmakers are deliberately distorting state budget figures to build their case for accepting $700 million in federal stimulus money in Columbia, South Carolina, Thursday, April 2, 2009. (Tim Dominick/The State/MCT) Tim Dominick / The State / MCT

Former staffers for South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said they routinely used private e-mail accounts to discuss sensitive political and policy decisions with Sanford.

The governor's office denies the practice was used to shield those communications from the public.

The state's Freedom of Information Act makes any discussion of state business on state computers a public document.

Sanford's office included 174 e-mails from his private account among nearly 3,900 pages of messages obtained by The State through state open-records laws last month.

But the disclosed e-mails contained little discussion of state business between staff and Sanford, and mostly dealt with daily news stories and other media-related issues. Sanford sent or received about 230 e-mails a month over the 13-month period contained in the request.

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said the office does not regularly use private e-mail to avoid open-records laws and most decisions are made in face-to-face meetings or over the phone.

But former Sanford spokesman Will Folks, now editor of FITSnews.com, said he checked his private e-mail at least 10 times a day while with the governor.

"That's where I was getting the vast majority of political e-mails," Folks said.

Those e-mails included polling and other data from Sanford’s Maryland-based consultant, Jon Lerner, that influenced policy decisions, Folks said, adding “most of his decision-making on bills” was done through e-mail.

Sanford considers the day "a ceremonial waste of time," Folks said, and often worked late into the evening by phone and e-mail.

Another former staffer, who did not want to be identified, had to create a private e-mail account after joining the governor's office. The staffer used the account to communicate with Sanford about state business.

Sawyer, the governor's spokesman, said the office has fully complied with state open-record laws. Sanford's attorneys searched his private account and pulled out anything related to state business among what they found, Sawyer said.

"Sometimes it's a matter of logistics," Sawyer said of why Sanford used his private account. "We did what we did in the interest of transparency. . . . We turned it over."

Read more at TheState.com

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