Lawmakers: SC gov’s pricey seats need a closer look (Anderson Independent)South Carolina legislators say Gov. Mark Sanford’s travel spending needs scrutiny, following an Associated Press review that showed he was booked on pricey flights despite laws that say state employees must travel as cheaply as possible.
“That’s a big problem,” said state Sen. Kevin Bryant, a Republican from Anderson and former Sanford ally. “Certainly when the average South Carolinian couldn’t afford first-class, there’s no reason they should be paying for someone else to be flying on a first-class ticket.”
Details have emerged on Sanford’s travel spending since last month’s revelation of his yearlong extramarital affair with an Argentine woman. The governor, who has vowed to stay in office, has said the two longtime friends became physical during a 2008 state Commerce trip to South America that first took officials to Brazil.
Records show the Republican governor charged the state $8,687 for the Delta Air Lines trip that included a leg in business class while other state employees spent less than $2,000 each on economy seats for the Brazil flight. The governor last month reimbursed the state for $3,300 tied to the Argentina portion of that South America trip.
The AP review also showed a 2006 U.S. Airways flight to London by the governor cost $7,065 in “envoy” class, the same as first class.
Legislators on Monday said those flights don’t appear to square with laws on the books since 1993 that say “no state funds may be used to purchase first class airline tickets” and that employees on business travel are required to “use the most economical mode of transportation,” considering factors such as urgency and schedules.
There is no penalty for violating the two provisions and no government watchdog to enforce them.
Still, Sanford is not exempt, said state Sen. Larry Martin. “Anytime the governor travels on the state’s dime, he needs to follow the same rules anybody else does,” said Martin, R-Pickens.State Sen. David Thomas said he plans next week to convene the budget subcommittee he chairs to begin looking at Sanford’s expensive flights and whether he spent state money to facilitate his affair. Thomas, R-Fountain Inn, said someone could take Sanford to court over the budget law issue.
Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said the governor never asked for the more expensive seating on trade missions. He also said media coverage of the governor’s travel fails to take into context his overall efforts to save the state money, including selling a state jet.
“Looking at individual flights outside of the full context of the governor’s actions while in office is a distortion of his record,” Sawyer said. He would not comment further on “this cherry-picking of the governor’s travel.”
The AP review of expense records shows Sanford, who once criticized other state officials for costly travel, charged the state more than $37,600 for one first-class and four business-class flights overseas since November 2005.
Martin said state bookkeepers should have flagged the reimbursement to the governor for his pricey travel. “That’s a little surprising to me that wasn’t picked up by the comptroller general,” Martin said.
In South Carolina, the Comptroller General’s Office has the final review of a spending request before it’s paid by the state Treasurer.
Agency chief of staff Jim Holly said Monday that the Comptroller General’s 11-member staff can’t take a detailed look at all the more than 1.3 million payment requests made each year. The comptroller relies on the agency submitting the requests to certify it’s complying with state law and on yearly audits to “pick up on potential violations of state rules and regulations,” Holly said.
If legislators want more scrutiny they could provide more funding, he said.