Governor Mark Sanford will not face criminal charges involving his travels and the use of the state plane. Part of that is because state laws are vague, according to the state’s chief prosecutor.
State Attorney General Henry McMaster said the evidence his office examined did not support beyond a reasonable doubt that the Governor intentionally or willfully set out to break state law. McMaster says because of the vagueness of the law, his office did not conclude that a criminal conviction could be obtained against the governor. For example, the law that states that state employees taking commercial flights for business must fly coach or tourist class except where exigencies (or special circumstances) require otherwise.
McMaster says the law doesn’t clearly define exigencies or special circumstances.
We do recommend that the General Assembly should clarify these rules on when businesss or first class travel is permitted so that there’s no ambiguity in the future. And that would include, in course, defining what an extengency is or justifies it. Whether it’s a long trip and the traveler needs to be rested, whether there’s work to be done or 101 other things, but it needs to be put into the law. Otherwise, the law is too vague.
Sanford said on long flights overseas he had to fly first class in order to deal with a recurring back problem and to be well rested in order to properly meet with heads of state and foreign business leaders.
On the charge that Sanford broke state law by using campaign funds for his personal use, Mcmaster says state law does not clearly define “ordinary campaign expenses” and “personal use.”
Candidates are given a broad discretion to determine proper campaign related expenses. And I’ve cited the Ethics Commission opinion that states that. These are the reasons why we’ve decided not to go forward. A candidate also is given broad discretion to determine what constitutes an ordinary expense of the office. Candidates do not have to be actively running for office to be considered a candidate and make disbursements from the account. Personal use and ordinary use are not clearly defined in South Carolina law.
In his investigative report, McMaster recommends that the General assembly should specifically define “personal use” and “ordinary and necessary expenses” so there is no ambiguity in the future.
McMaster says his office had the toughest time dealing with the charges that the Governor willingly used the state plane for personal use, especially on those occasions Sanford would combine official business trips which included legs or stops that could be viewed as personal in nature:
For instance, flying to Virginia to pick the governor up at a National Governor’s Association conference – certainly that is official business. But taking him to Sea Pines to be with the family when it’s over -is that official business? Some would argue, if you took him away, you have to bring him back. Others would argue that the first flight up is official business, but that the leg coming back, is not. I think that those kind of personal legs do violate the spirit of the law, but that they do not violate the letter of the law.
McMaster recommends that the General Assembly should clarify the statues:
In order to maintain a procecution, of course, the law is strictly construed against the state. If there’s any ambiguity in the law, it is read against the state and in favor of the defendent or potential defendent. That is why we are recommending to the General Assembly they go back and look at these laws and that they add some details and address those points, so we won’t be in that position again.