In light of Speaker Harrell’s letter of yesterday and the Republican Caucus’ letter of today, I thought it important to write and give a little of what the old commentator Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story.” I don’t begrudge their letters, but when I see them departing what had been the reasonable approach of waiting until the Ethics Commission completed their investigation, it suggests there is a need to tell “the rest of the story.” The cynic would simply say they’re gunning for you. This is especially true when these letters cite “other disturbing facts” as their reason for writing, when all we have are headlines or claims from political detractors. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say they’re frightened, and I don’t blame them given the level of misinformation that has dominated headlines and political conversations over the last few months.
In either case, in 1841 Charles Mackay wrote the book Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and some of what I have seen from some in politics is so far out of touch from what I am hearing from many across this state that I am compelled to offer a few insights into these accusations and stories on travel. It has indeed become a very muddy picture given the amount of misinformation that is out there, and if all that had been suggested in media accounts over the last 45 days were true, I would have resigned long ago. Reality is that these accounts in fact don’t come close to telling the whole story, and the picture they paint is not accurate.
In life, two wrongs never make a right. As we all know, I failed before God and man with my disclosure of June 24th. I have apologized repeatedly for my moral failing and the measure of any of our lives is in how we get back up, as I believe God can use people far from perfect in all walks of life. I have also said repeatedly that the original moral failure was mine, but that doesn’t make it right for some in politics, or media, to continue to spread inaccurate information out there because they think it will help them climb politically, or that it is payback time politically, or in the media world that it would help them sell papers.
Amidst this circus I think we have a genuine opportunity, and this is the only reason I am still here. Over the last six and one half years, too often opponents in Columbia believed I was running for President and as a consequence didn’t want to give “me” a win on restructuring or some other legislative item. They blocked things in many cases not because of the idea, but because of me. It is now abundantly clear that I am not running for another office, and therefore, in these 16 months we have remaining – could we actually have a real debate on the structure of our government, on how we spend, and on adding tools to the tool kit for economic development and jobs?
I think we can and should, but the first step toward doing so rests in this political circus ending – and that means stopping and looking at the real facts rather than political opponents’ claims or media headlines. This is especially important given the fact that some of this has now gotten to the point that some of my friends contend that this is now about an all too powerful General Assembly growing its strength relative to future Governors. Accordingly, let me give you a little greater context to some of what has been going on and said.
If you think this additional information is helpful, I would encourage you to send it to friends as it has become clear the level of misinformation out there is unlikely to be cleared by the press or quieted by political opponents.
1. David Thomas has said I broke the law in flying business class on several international economic development trips. He is running for Congress and some have suggested this so called “investigation” is his way of raising his name identification. At minimum, it seems to be a case of selective outrage. I have taken the liberty of pasting below the letter our office sent Senator David Thomas recently, and if you have a moment I think it’s worth a read.
I think “selective outrage” is a pretty accurate description, given that the practice Thomas is now portraying as “illegal” has been standard practice at the Department of Commerce for the last 20-plus years. It’s also something that’s been done with Republican and Democratic governors alike, Secretaries of Commerce and their staff – and even members of the General Assembly. Furthermore, the Legislative Audit Council (LAC), the legislative body’s oversight arm, conducted an audit of the Department of Commerce in 2002 and 2004 – and though there were many business class tickets purchased during this time, the LAC’s analysis said that “we did not find material noncompliance with state travel regulations.”
All of this is a longwinded way of saying that if the legislature wants to change what has been the accepted practice for decades, that’s fine; but there is something grossly political in Senator Thomas accusing this administration of “breaking the law” – while not saying the same about fellow Senators or past administrations that did the same. In fact, there’s a particular irony in the fact that of the three members of Sen. Thomas’ own subcommittee, one of them – Senator Land – flew business class using state money on an economic development trip with Governor Hodges. I point that out not to accuse Senator Land of wrongdoing, or criticize then-Governor Hodges, but to point out the lack of fair accounting and indeed Thomas’ “selective outrage” since he does not hold his desk mate or other Senators to the same standard.
Another point on these business class tickets lies even in the way in which they were used. There were instances when people in state government flew over to Europe on a Friday, play golf over the weekend and then begin meetings on Monday. Frequently there were large entourages on these trips and staff assigned to coordinating a travel program for spouses. Not to criticize these trips or their participants; but cars assigned to each couple, and hundreds of thousands in cost are all important details that should be noted if Senator Thomas were indeed trying to get the bottom line on spending state dollars. If he looked at these sorts of details he would see how favorably our administration stacked up in spending state dollars as we tried to do this work on behalf of the people of South Carolina.
Finally, on this point, it’s also interesting to note that all executive branch expenditures are reviewed and approved by the Comptroller General of the state. Very legitimately, no red flags have been raised on the purchase of airplane tickets like these since 1987, when the head of Commerce at that time sought and received an affirmative opinion from the Comptroller General to purchase at least business class tickets.
2. Several media outlets have thrown up big headlines on our use of the state plane, and anyone with a busy and intertwined life can be made to look foolish if one ignores the larger context of travel within the state. Let me offer a few points of context and then a couple of examples showing why I believe claims of political opponents and the headlines are wrong.
The first point of context would be that I have used the state plane less than my predecessors – by a great degree. When measuring four year terms, Governor Campbell flew 451.6 hours, Governor Beasley flew 303.17 hours and Governor Hodges flew 310.06 hours, while I flew 228.95 hours. We have flown this plane a full one-third less than two of these administrations and one-half less than the other.
This is only the tip of the iceberg because this does not include all state-paid flights, or account for the cost of flights, or for that matter changes in procedures.
First, in the category of other state paid flights, consider the following: During the last administration – the Hodges administration – the state had a lease contract and fractional interest in a Hawker 800XP jet with transatlantic capability. With this Hawker jet there was a $10,000 per month management fee whether the plane was flown or not. These charges and flight time cost the Hodges Administration more than $393,295 – which means that this one charge alone (which doesn’t even include the cost of their 310.06 hours on the state plane) cost more than all our administration’s flying.
Even this only tells part of the story on the money we have saved. I say this because in many cases we were burning regular aviation fuel rather than jet fuel, and running airplanes that had one-fifth the operating cost per hour. This is a significant point, as I’ve always tried to watch out for the taxpayer’s money. Specifically, we tried to go the extra mile because of the hours I flew, roughly 70 hours were actually in the single engine Cessna that DNR owns. Its costs are about one-seventh that of the King Air owned by the state – which represents a saving to taxpayers of more than $60,000. No governor has done this before, and it is hardly “gubernatorial” in its look and feel, but I thought it was worth the savings.
Under the category of changing procedures, it was standard practice during the Beasley administration to fly the state plane from the Columbia Airport where it was housed to Owens Field for pick up. I am not pointing this out to be critical of his administration or others who employed this practice, but just to note that by not doing this we saved the taxpayers a little over $70,000.
In the same vein, some governors used state helicopters extensively, and these hours logged are not included in the total flight hour comparisons. Given their operating cost per hour, we changed this practice and have not used them but on fewer than five occasions.
As an administration, when I came into office we also sold the state’s fractional interest in the Hawker jet, saving more than $1.5 million. We also consolidated helicopter and fixed wing aircraft use between SLED and DNR for several hundred thousands of dollars of additional savings.
As well, we gave up other benefits afforded other First Families – deciding to rent out both the Governor’s summer residence in Charleston and the Lace House at the Governor’s residence – and thus far generating more than $700,000 in state revenue. At the mansion we cut back staff and have saved more than $1 million to this point when compared to the previous administration. I also personally bought a minivan for Jenny and the boys and declined the BMW historically loaned to the sitting governor for personal use. We sent the BMW to the Highway Patrol. And we dramatically cut overall travel expense for the Governor’s office, and again have the lowest state expenses of any Governor over the last thirty years. To get a sense of comparison, the last administration had average yearly travel expenses of $35,346 – ours is $12,993 – which is a drop of 63 percent.
Another point of context on state plane travel is that out of the 353 hours flown over the last six and a half years, some in the media have called into question about 7 hours of flight. That represents two percent of the total flight hours taken.
Here are a few examples of some of the more sensational, and potentially misleading, headlines:
Articles suggest I had “flown back to my favorite hair salon.” I did call the office on my way back from official state business in Myrtle Beach to say I wanted to drop by for a haircut – but this so-called “hair salon” in this case is a walk-in Great Clips where you can get an $11 haircut. Why in the world would I rush back to keep an “appointment” at a place that doesn’t take appointments?
Articles suggest I “flew the family back from Beaufort on Thanksgiving weekends.” Does anyone believe that Jenny – or in particular the boys – really wanted to leave their Thanksgiving weekend early to walk down the State House steps for the annual Governor’s Christmas Tree Lighting? Still, if that isn’t official business, I don’t know what is – and it’s been expected of governors to attend for the last 42 years. Indeed, there are also flight records that show previous Governors and Lt. Governors taking flights back to Columbia to be a part of this tradition.
Articles suggest that I “flew from Columbia to Mt. Pleasant for a dentist appointment.” It is true that I went by the dentist office for 15 minutes because I chipped my tooth, but this is hardly the larger context of the visit. At 4 pm on that day, the 23rd of March, 2005, I testified before the Senate Finance Sub-Committee on our income tax proposal; I had the chance to tell thousands of people on the coast about it through an in-studio interview with Channel 2 at 6:50. Not knowing when the subcommittee would end, the state plane was used so that I would be certain of making the interview.
3. Still other media accounts have criticized my not disclosing some flights on private airplanes. We didn’t because the law is clear that if a friend or family member provides the flight you don’t have to. My brother has indeed flown me many times as he is a pilot with his own plane, and the reality of life is that one does’t climb to the position that I have been blessed to be in without friends. You don’t climb big mountains based on your own efforts, and I do indeed have some dear and great friends. The Executive Director of the Ethics Commission recently affirmed our reading of the law when he said to a Spartanburg television reporter, “If the use of the private plane is given because of friendship and would have been given regardless of whether he was governor or not, then it’s not required to be disclosed.”
4. Business class tickets, part two: The State paper ran an article on September 3, 2009 entitled, “Exclusive: Sanford was reimbursed for plane ticket he won.” This all sounds fairly ominous given the way it seems to suggest I cashed in and was reimbursed for a free ticket I won. Once again, the picture painted is not accurate. This one really seems to fall into the category of ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ as I purchased a round trip business class ticket at the BMW charity auction for $1,100. I “won” the silent auction on this item; I didn’t “win” the ticket. I “won” the right to buy the ticket for $1,100. This is a very important distinction as just a few words here paint a completely different picture. Word-smithing on the part of some in the media in instances like these strikes me as advocating – rather than just objectively telling what happened.
It turns out months later a business economic development trip to Europe came up, and I decided to use it rather than have the state purchase a ticket about $2,000 more expensive. I saved the state – and taxpayers – the approximate $2,000 and was reimbursed for the $1,100 I had spent – and not a penny more.
If past is any prologue, then I am sure there will be more strange stories and claims to come. I would just ask that you get a hold of me as there will inevitably be more to the story.
Finally, as the world now knows, I am certainly far less than perfect, but I take solace in the fact that no effort by man will ever be perfect and that God can indeed use imperfect people in all walks of life. It has been a great honor to have fought for liberty and for limited and more efficient, accountable and transparent government, and I am more than ready to get back to that work that does make a difference in people’s lives.
Sadly some people in politics consider it a game. I don’t, and I never have. Accordingly, as I suggested earlier in this letter, I ask for your help in ever so politely asking the “powers that be” to move back to the ideas and issues that affect every one of us on a daily basis. In all my travels and constant moving around the state, I can say with clarity that it has always been within the context of trying to maximize my days and watch out for the taxpayer in the process.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and if you have any further questions on any of this, please feel free to call or email me. Take care.
Filed under: South Carolina |