More trouble for Mark Sanford

In yet another self-inflicted wound, it seems the South Carolina governor failed to disclose free plane trips

Published August 21, 2009 10:01PM (EDT)

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s been down so long, you can imagine it’s starting to look like up to him.

First, of course, there was Sanford's mysterious disappearance, ineffectively masked by the “Appalachian Trail” cover-up. That, of course, turned out to be a liaison in Argentina with his doxy, Maria Belén Chapur. Then, of course, the whole avalanche of embarrassing, stream-of-consciousness press conferences and leaked e-mails, and his wife’s admirable refusal to do the Tammy Wynette bit. So now that the subject is changing from his moral wrongs to merely ethical infractions, the governor might be a little relieved.

On the other hand, this is the kind of stuff that could still end up costing him his job. Using Freedom of Information requests, an Associated Press investigation has found that Sanford took 35 flights on private planes, which he failed to list on ethics forms or campaign filings. South Carolina law requires him to report any gift over $25 received in a single day, or anything received over the course of a year worth at least $200, “if there is reason to believe the donor would not give the thing of value” but for his position.

In what is apparently a misguided effort to exonerate his boss, Sanford spokesman Ben Fox explains that political groups and longtime friends paid for the flights. Says Fox, “That was our standard operating procedure.”

That apparently does not cut it with the Ethics Commission, whose general counsel, Cathy L. Hazelwood, responds that the flights “need to be disclosed somewhere.” Hazelwood adds, “To the extent friendship is a reason not to report something is fascinating to me. There is no private Mark Sanford at this point."

Sanford’s travel habits have already attracted attention for their ethical implications, but his lawyer, Butch Bowers, says that it’s up to the governor to make the call on what kind of friendships are the state’s business. “That's inherently subjective, and that subjectivity is necessarily grounded in the person doing the reporting.” Fox, the governor’s spokesman, adds that maybe the groups flying the governor around should have to do the reporting.

But Hazelwood, the state ethics official, is having none of those excuses, which she assigns to “the lame pile."

"He's got a growing list in the lame pile,” she adds.

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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