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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford used state aircraft for personal and political trips, often bringing along his wife and children — contrary to state law regarding official use, an Associated Press investigation has found.
Records reviewed by the AP show that since he took office in 2003, the two-term Republican has taken trips on state aircraft to locations of his children's sporting events, hair and dentist appointments, political party gatherings and a birthday party for a campaign donor.
On March 10, 2006, a state plane was sent to pick up Sanford in Myrtle Beach and return him to Columbia, the state capital, at a cost of $1,265 — when his calendar showed his only appointment in Columbia was "personal time" at his favorite discount hair salon. He had flown to Myrtle Beach on a private plane and attended a county GOP event.
According to state budget law, "Any and all aircraft owned or operated by agencies of the State Government shall be used only for official business."
In fact, state law requires the Aeronautics Division to collect and keep sworn statements from aircraft users certifying flights were for official business within 48 hours of flights. Sanford's office routinely filed that paperwork days or weeks late and the division destroys documents more than three years old.
"They're actually destroying data that the Legislature gave them no permission to destroy. That's like destroying evidence," said state Sen. David Thomas, a Republican congressional candidate who has begun holding legislative hearings into Sanford's use of state funds.
Added Thomas: "It's an overwhelming ethical issue here. To me, this is clear misuse of state property."
Any public official found to have used state property for personal financial gain is subject to as much as a $5,000 fine and five years in prison. Only incidental use that does not result in additional public expense is exempt.
The governor has made a political career out of being outwardly thrifty — known to demand that state employees use both sides of Post-It notes. He has frequently railed against government spending, and attempted for months to block federal stimulus money for South Carolina schools.