The first hearing looking into state spending connected to Governor Sanford’s trips was held in the State Senate building Friday. Greenville Republican Senator David Thomas, who chairs the Finance Administrative Subcommittee, said that he had heard of plans by others to make the issue a political football during the upcoming governor’s race.Thomas said that he wants to get rid of the issue, that has been bothering the state, interfering with the focus that lawmakers need on the main issues. “We need to get that off the table as fast as we can. And I’m confident that if we thoroughly look at all the issues that the taxpayers are concerned about that the matter will be resolved. I’m pretty confident, as a matter of fact, that what the governor has said is the case, is that there has been no misuse of funds, and hopefully all of this can be confirmed.”
Two of the three subcommittee members were on vacation and not present for the meeting.
SLED Director Reggie Lloyd testified Friday, reiterating what has been said before, that SLED’s investigation into five of Sanford’s trips revealed no violation of the law. Thomas says more hearings will be conducted over the next six to eight weeks.
Senator Thomas says the sole purpose of the hearings under his subcommittee is a narrow one, to make certain that state funds were not misused.
Thomas says state lawmakers will have the right to pursue all the information they need. “Should we have to go after supoena power, it would be necessary to go to the full Finance Committee. Senator Leatherman would have to either poll or call the full committee back, if he decided to do so. And you would have to have a full majority vote to receive supeoena powers. At this time we’re only asking for cooperation.”
Lloyd said that Governor Sanford’s decision to pay back state money spent on the Argentina leg of the Department of Commerce trip was a public relations decision. Lloyd also said that while SLED investigated the misuse of state funds that any ethical questions about the governor’s actions would be up to state lawmakers. “Any restrictions on travel, what a person is allowed to do on travel, is a legislative issue. There’s nothing criminal about the trip itself. His decision to pay back the money in no way removes the legitimacy of the trip. He did business while he was there. And he was in the company of an aid from the Department of Commerce.”
Lloyd said that even if the governor added the Argentina leg of the trip to the Department of Commerce travel plans with an alteria motive in mind, that it was not breaking a law. Lloyd said that question would be for legislators to investigate. From the criminal investigator’s perspective, what he did in his free time is his business. “It is no different in our minds than a state employee or legislator who goes to a conference, does the business they were sent there on, and does something else at night. Their free time is their free time.”
Lloyd’s investigators looked into five trips that Sanford took. Thomas says he wants to investigate the more than 70 trips Sanford took without a security detail. Lloyd says those so-called trips may only be times when Sanford may have just left the Governor’s Mansion to run out to a store alone.