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Ethics panel votes to charge Sanford

Gov. Mark Sanford agreed Thursday to remove the last hurdle to a long-delayed House of Representatives impeachment investigation of his travel and campaign expenses.

Sanford's attorneys said they planned to turn over a disputed State Ethics Commission investigative report to the House, likely early next week. House leaders have been waiting to review the report, which has been shielded from the public, before allowing impeachment hearings to begin.

Sanford's attorneys provided some insight into the months-long ethics investigation Thursday, disclosing the commission has questioned about three-dozen instances of Sanford's travel and use of campaign funds.

One sponsor of the House impeachment resolution, Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said the special impeachment panel could meet before Thanksgiving.

Sanford and the House have been at odds over the report for months, even asking the S.C. Supreme Court to decide who could review the records. Thursday, House Speaker Bobby Harrell called on Sanford, who Harrell pointed out has always championed transparency, to allow the House to review the report.

The Ethics Commission voted Wednesday to charge Sanford with "several" violations of state law, but declined to list the charges or say whether they were criminal or civil violations. Sanford's attorney Butch Bowers called the charges "minor, technical violations." The investigative report, he said, would prove that.

"The results of the Commission's exhaustive investigation confirm what we have said all along - that Governor Sanford has been a good steward of public resources and has worked hard to ensure his administration adheres to both the letter and the spirit of the law," Bowers said in a statement.

He also noted the Ethics Commission had questioned records detailing about two-dozen of 772 flights and a dozen of 622 campaign expenditures. Bowers also confirmed the Ethics Commission had cleared Sanford in one of four areas of its investigation: his use of private planes donated by friends and political allies.

Ethics investigators also reviewed Sanford's:

- Use of state planes for personal trips

- Purchase of business-class airfare despite state rules that require the cheapest available airfare

- Reimbursements from his campaign account near the times Sanford has admitted he met his Argentinean lover. Candidates may not use campaign accounts for personal expenses.

Sanford's attorneys also asked the Ethics Commission on Thursday to amend previously filed disclosures on Sanford's use of private aircraft.

"The Ethics Commission concluded yesterday that Gov. Sanford has complied with all laws regarding private air travel," Bowers said in a statement. "In reaching its conclusion, the Commission considered publicly available information regarding the governor's previously disclosed travel, which unequivocally establishes that the governor's use of private planes was in compliance with the law. Further, Gov. Sanford requested that, upon final disposition of this matter, this publicly available information be attached to his previously filed Statements of Economic Interest and campaign disclosure forms."

Bowers said he would turn the report over to the House once the Ethics Commission released a notice of hearing, which will set the date of Sanford's hearing and list the charges. Ethics Commission director Herbert Hayden said the agency hoped to release that document Monday.

Lawmakers introduced a resolution this week charging Sanford with abandoning his duties when he took a secret five-day trip to Argentina to meet his lover.

Delleney said the committee could meet before Thanksgiving, and other lawmakers hoped the committee could finish its work before the Legislature returns in January.

"Hopefully he will go ahead and release the report," said Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, "and we can start work immediately."

House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Harrison, R-Richland, said this week he plans to appoint a special seven-member subcommittee to handle the bill once he had reviewed the ethics report. Efforts to reach Harrison about when he might name the committee were unsuccessful Thursday. Delleney said he expects to be added to the committee.

Bingham said the review might answer all questions about the governor's conduct.

"Certainly it's my hope that there's nothing there," Bingham said. "I'm sure the governor, as much as any of us, wants to bring resolution to this matter."