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S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford to pay $74,000 in ethics fines

By Meg Kinnard

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 19 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Mark Sanford has agreed to pay $74,000 in fines to resolve dozens of charges that he violated state ethics laws with his campaign spending and travel, including a taxpayer-funded rendezvous with his Argentine mistress, the State Ethics Commission said Thursday.

The commission brought the 37 civil charges against the Republican last year. Sanford, who is term-limited and will leave office in January, still could face criminal charges.

Scrutiny of Sanford's travel started over the summer, when the then-married governor vanished for five days after telling some staff he was going hiking on the Appalachian Trail. He was actually in Argentina, and he returned to tearfully confess a yearlong affair with a woman he later told The Associated Press was his soul mate.

Sanford was considered a potential 2012 presidential candidate until the bombshells about the affair, which also cost him his marriage. Ensuing AP investigations questioned his use of state, commercial and private airplanes and bruised his image as a penny-pinching politician who once required staff to use both sides of Post-it notes.

After those investigations, the ethics panel charged him with improperly buying first- and business-class airline tickets, violating a state law requiring lowest-cost travel; improperly using state-owned aircraft for travel to political and personal events, including a stop at a discount hair salon; and improperly reimbursing himself with campaign cash.

Among the mistakes the commission alleged were:

approving the purchase of four first- and business-class commercial airline tickets for a June 2008 trip during which he met with his mistress in Argentina.

personal use of state-owned aircraft for trips such as the birthday party of a campaign contributor in Aiken.

reimbursing himself nearly $3,000 using campaign contributions, including about $900 for expenses to attend a Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami and a hunting trip in Dublin several days later.

Some of the allegations about Sanford's use of campaign funds first were revealed by The State newspaper in Columbia.

Under the agreement, Sanford also agrees to compensate the Ethics Commission nearly $36,498 for its investigative costs. He also agrees to pay back:

$18,000 to the state Departments of Commerce for first- and business-class airfare;

$7,792 to the Division of Aeronautics and $1,003 for personal use of state-owned aircraft.

In addition, Sanford says he will pay $2,941 to his own campaign account as a reimbursement for personal use of campaign funds.

The governor's signature on the consent agreement means he does not admit to violating state ethics laws but does not dispute the accusations either. It's a departure from statements his lawyers made when the charges were brought, downplaying them as "technical questions" about his conduct.

A month later, lawmakers said they believed the accusations were not serious enough to warrant impeachment and instead censured him, a reprimand that had no practical effect.

In a statement, Sanford reiterated that he feels he did not break ethics laws and thanked the commission for its work.

Sanford's divorce from Jenny Sanford became final Thursday afternoon. She recently completed a book tour promoting her memoir about their relationship.

Associated Press writer Jim Davenport contributed to this report.

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