To the Contrary

Gov. Sanford's words raise more questions

"Methinks he doth protest too much!"

There is great wisdom in that ancient Shakesperian line.

It's the very same thing I saw over and over during my career as a police investigator: Sometimes, a suspect unwittingly draws attention to himself by protesting his innocence too loudly.

That's exactly what kept going through my mind as I read Gov. Sanford's opinion-editorial in which he tried to defend funneling taxpayer dollars to one of his pet political groups: He protested a bit too much.

And, as I pondered his words, several other red flags from my detective days jumped out at me. First, Sanford's facts didn't match up; second, he tried to divert attention away from the issue; and third, he ended his article by attacking others. In short, he reacted exactly the same as a suspect from the street who had been caught red-handed would have reacted.

At issue, of course, is the $150,000 Competitive Grant which Sanford secured for the National Governors Conference in 2006, while publicly attacking the Competitive Grant Programs as "pork" and a "slush fund" for legislators.

While the governor adamantly insisted that he did nothing wrong, his rationalization that quietly disbursing public funds to his political cronies was OK, while lawmakers securing grants for community projects was not, is short on facts.

Within his 11-paragraph editorial, I found no fewer than 12 inconsistencies, exaggerations, or misstatements of fact -- to me, a clear sign that there is more than meets the eye, and that Gov. Sanford was just a bit too eager to avoid closer inspection of the suspicious circumstances surrounding his inappropriate -- and highly hypocritical -- use of taxpayer dollars for purely political purposes.

While space does not allow me to get into every inaccuracy, let me quickly explain just a few:

• The governor claims there was a surplus because of his "frugality", and chides the legislature for extravagant spending. According to records from the Governors Conference, however, more than $70,000 was spent on "gift bags" and gifts for attendees. Spending $70,000 on gifts, with only 37 governors in attendance, doesn't sound "frugal" to me.

• The governor states that he raised $1.2 million in private funds for the conference, but according to the records I have obtained so far, this is not true. It's an exaggeration: He only raised $1.05 million from private sources. And while it may seem to be a minor discrepancy, it begs the question, "Why is Sanford fudging the figures?"

• The governor maintains that "no state funds were included in the surplus that was transferred." Again, this is not true. The governor knows full well that the state Supreme Court has ruled -- and common sense tells us -- that when mixing public and private funds, all of the money must be treated as taxpayer dollars.

• In his editorial, Sanford writes that Carolinians for Reform, the group to which he tried to funnel taxpayer money, was "started by a longtime friend and supporter." What he fails, however, to mention are the direct business ties he has to this person and the other board members ... all of whom are also large donors to his campaign. (And in my opinion, his description of the group's mission being "to inform South Carolinians about how state government operates" also seems to be a generous interpretation; if it was created for that purpose -- and not as a political attack group, as it is widely believed -- why would Sanford need to quietly divert more than $100,000 of taxpayers' money to "inform" the taxpayers about how government operates.)

• The governor insists that out of 459 grants, his was the "only one to ever run a surplus." Hogwash! Many of the very worthwhile projects funded end up in the black, with surplus funds. At least one grantee, the Footbridge Festival, returned its unused money to the taxpayers. And many other carry forward their unused balances to be used as intended in future years, as allowed by law. So Sanford's holier-than-thou statement is false. It IS true, however, that out of 459 grants, however, the governor's was the only one to secretly funnel money to a political group.

In an interview just days after the news surfaced that the governor had attempted to steer the taxpayers' hard-earned money to his political organization, the governor told the Associated Press, essentially: "I'm human, and I made a mistake."

And had he left it at that, it might have been the end of this discussion.

But when I witness the governor so blatantly twisting, spinning and obscuring the truth in his Nov. 21 editorial, my detective instincts once again took over. Why is Sanford trying to prove his innocence with distortions and exaggeration? His writings raise too many red flags and leave too many serious questions, so I must continue to seek answers.

This week, in accordance with the state Freedom of Information Act, I requested an opportunity to review the financial books of Carolinians for Reform, the organization which secretly received more than $100,000 of state funds.

The taxpayers deserve to know what's happening with their hard-earned money, and what their governor is up to behind closed doors.

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