A panel considering impeachment called his trip to see his Argentine mistress embarrassing and said his use of state planes was poor judgment, but they mostly agreed it was not serious misconduct that merited removal from office. Instead, the seven lawmakers unanimously sent a full legislative committee a measure that would censure Sanford.
Sanford has been under scrutiny since June when he tearfully revealed the affair. Ensuing probes of his travel and campaign spending led to more than three dozen state ethics charges and the potential for $74,000 in fines. His second and final term ends in January 2011.
"We can't impeach for hypocrisy. We can't impeach for arrogance. We can't impeach an officeholder for his lack of leadership skills," said Rep. James Harrison, the Columbia Republican who headed the panel.
Only eight U.S. governors have been removed by impeachment, and the only two removed in the last 80 years each faced criminal charges.
Technically, the outcome of Wednesday's vote will be sent as a recommendation to a full House Judiciary panel, which could revive an impeachment effort. However, that is unlikely given the margin of the vote.
Sanford also is the subject of a State Ethics Commission hearing on more than three dozen civil charges involving his use of state planes, pricey commercial airlines seats and campaign money. The state attorney general is considering whether those accusations will lead to criminal charges.
The lawmakers have honed in on Sanford's trip to Argentina in June, debating how seriously to consider the governor's five-day absence during which his staff was led to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Legislators pushing for impeachment sought to punish Sanford for bringing "extreme dishonor and shame" and contended he was derelict in his duty.
"We have a governor forsaking, abandoning, deserting his office. We have a premeditated, intentional act where he abandoned his office in the state," said state Rep. Greg Delleney, a Republican who was the lone vote for impeachment. "He has lost all moral authority to lead this state."