Sanford flies high on taxpayers' dime
Sanford flies high on taxpayers' dime
Kenneth P. Vogel Kenneth P. Vogel 2 hrs 13 mins ago
Aside from the damage done to his standing as a social conservative, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s recent admission of an extramarital affair may end up tarnishing another of his political credentials—his carefully-honed reputation as a tight-fisted steward of taxpayer money.
A POLITICO analysis of hundreds of pages of state travel records requested to explore the circumstances of his affair found that in his six-and-a-half years as governor, Sanford traveled frequently and in a style markedly at odds with his political persona.
The records detail more than $468,000 worth of state-funded travel for Sanford and show that he routinely billed taxpayers for high-end airline seats, racking up more than $44,000 on business- and first-class tickets. He often stayed in pricey hotels that far exceeded the rates he imposed on other state employees.
On one overseas trip, the state appears to have spent more than $12,000 for the GOP governor’s business-class tickets for a September 2007 trade mission to China, while his aides flew in economy class for airfares as low as $1,900.
The records, released to POLITICO and a handful of other media outlets under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, cover commercial airline trips to destinations including Paris, Beijing, Stockholm, Munich and London, as well as state plane flights that carried him, his family, friends and staff around the state and country. They do not detail the costs of every international trade mission Sanford participated in, and in some cases, the documents are incomplete or difficult to decipher.
Still, the picture that emerges from the records conflicts with Sanford’s image as a politician who is especially stingy with taxpayer cash and vigilant about the costs of taxpayer-funded travel.
After winning a seat in Congress in 1994, he publicly agonized over accepting a $10,000-taxpayer-funded trip, telling a local paper, “I know politically it's not the right thing ever to go on any trip."
While running for governor in 2002, Sanford zeroed in on travel spending, criticizing Democratic incumbent Gov. Jim Hodges for “lavish spending” on airfare and hotel rooms.
“If I become your governor,” he asserted in a radio ad, “I’ll fix that problem in Columbia.”
Indeed, in his first year as South Carolina’s chief executive, Sanford moved quickly to implement his campaign promise by urging state employees to sleep two-to-a-hotel-room while traveling on state business.
Later, he called out an unnamed state employee for staying in a New York hotel for $269 per night – which he pointed out at the time was $61 above the federal rate – and a state consultant for billing the state $375 a night for a three-night stay in Phoenix hotel to attend a conference.
His 2008-2009 budget proposal again targeted taxpayer-funded travel, and projected $2.8 million in savings by reducing the travel costs across state agencies. A summary from his office states “it is clear that some [agencies] have not used taxpayer dollars in the most efficient manner possible.”
Yet records of the state-funded trips taken by Sanford as governor suggest that his arrangements often ran counter to the state Budget and Control Board’s travel expense guidelines.
Those guidelines dictate that “travel by commercial airlines will be accomplished in coach or tourist class, except where exigencies require otherwise.”
But on the now-infamous June 2008 South American trade mission, where Sanford slipped away to meet his Argentinean mistress, the governor’s airfare consisted of four business-class flights for which the state paid $8,687.
By contrast, the Commerce Department official who accompanied Sanford to Buenos Aires flew coach, at a cost of $1,910 to the taxpayers (the official’s itinerary included one less short leg, since he did not accompany Sanford to Cordoba, Argentina, for a day of dove hunting).
Kara Borie, a spokeswoman from the state Department of Commerce, which arranged many of the trips, said Sanford “typically flies business class,” but “did not request business class airfare.”
She wouldn’t say who requested business class tickets for Sanford, nor did she answer questions about whether Sanford’s travel ran afoul of state reimbursement rules. Instead, she pointed POLITICO to the state Budget and Control Board’s travel expense guidelines.
Late last month, Sanford, who is independently wealthy, reimbursed the state coffers $3,300 for expenses accrued on the Argentine leg of the mission, after acknowledging that his rendezvous during the trade mission “raised some very legitimate concerns and questions.”
A State Law Enforcement Division investigation determined Sanford did not misuse state funds to conduct his affair.
In addition to the requirement of coach or tourist class travel, South Carolina’s expense guidelines state that “a traveler on official business will exercise the same care in incurring expenses and accomplishing an assignment that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business. Excess costs, circuitous routes, delays or luxury accommodations unnecessary or unjustified in the performance of an assignment are not considered acceptable as exercising prudence.”
Yet in preparation for an April European trade mission, the Commerce Department paid $7,255.97 for a roundtrip ticket that included a first-class flight from Charlotte to Newark, N.J.; a business-class flight from Newark to Warsaw, Poland; a flight of unknown class from Warsaw to Stockholm; and a business-class flight from Stockholm to Chicago. But on the final day of the mission, the department paid another $2,527.54 for a different return flight from Stockholm to Newark. Then, a week later, the airline credited the department $4,748.18, apparently leaving taxpayers with a final tab of $5,035.33.
Sanford’s spokesman, Joel Sawyer, did not answer questions about whether Sanford’s state-funded travel conflicted with either his penny-pinching rhetoric or state travel rules.
Instead, he said in a statement: “Governor Sanford has always made it a point to be incredibly judicious with his travel, and compares favorably to previous administrations on that front.”
Indeed, Sanford flew coach on some flights, according to the records—which were received from the state’s Comptroller General, Budget and Control Board, Law Enforcement Division and Commerce Department—and was joined in business or first class by accompanying state officials on other flights.
And the records demonstrate traces of fiscal restraint, such as a 2005 bill from Tokyo’s five-star Hotel New Otani, which shows that Sanford bunked with then-Commerce Secretary Bob Faith for four nights at a cost to taxpayers of $868.54.
But the documents don’t reflect any other instances in which Sanford shared hotel rooms with another state employee.
They include an $862 bill for Sanford’s three-night stay in Philadelphia’s Ritz Carlton in July 2008 for the National Governors Association meeting. During the NGA’s February meeting, taxpayers picked up the $648 bill for Sanford and his wife Jenny to spend two nights in Washington’s JW Marriott.
Neither tab is out of line with big-city hotel rates, and in both cases the hotels were hosting NGA events. Still, the bills were a combined $644 more than the federal reimbursement rates – which Sanford has repeatedly urged state employees to adhere to – for the dates, cities and number of nights of Sanford’s stays.
State records also show that Sanford, his family and staff have amassed about $380,000 in flight charges on the state plane in his six years in office, including many flights with his family and supporters costing hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars each
Sawyer pointed out that the state’s previous governor, Democrat Jim Hodges, spent $377,000 on flights in his four-year term term.
When asked for comment, Hodges responded: “Under Jim Hodges leadership, South Carolina had single digit unemployment, strong job growth, and solid capital investment. Under Mark Sanford, we have thirteen percent unemployment, one of the highest jobless rates in the country. You be the judge of who gave the taxpayers a better return on their investment.”
Told of some of the expenses revealed in the travel records, South Carolina GOP state Sen. Larry Martin called them “very hypocritical” and “quite shocking.”
“When this information comes out, I think it’s going to be a huge disappointment to a lot of folks to realize that he just isn’t the type of person on a number of fronts that many people thought he was,” said Martin.
Among a group of Republicans who called for Sanford to step down after he admitted to the extramarital affair, Martin predicted Sanford’s supporters were “going to be very disgusted to learn that he’s been somewhat of a big-spender when it comes to his own personal travel while at the same time insisting that state government be on a starvation diet.”
Zachary Abrahamson and Kathryn McGarr contributed to this report.
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