Mark Sanford Won Exemption to Take Fiancée on All-Expenses Trip to Israel

(AP Photo/Bruce Smith)
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Add to Briefcase
Shane Goldmacher
Sept. 9, 2013, 12:05 p.m.

Rep. Mark San­ford, whose ex­tramar­it­al dal­li­ance abroad while gov­ernor of South Car­o­lina led to scan­dal, took his mis­tress-turned-fiancée, María Belén Chapur, to Is­rael in Au­gust, on a trip paid for by the Amer­ic­an Is­rael Edu­ca­tion Found­a­tion, con­gres­sion­al re­cords show.

Such privately fun­ded trips are typ­ic­ally lim­ited to re­l­at­ives, but San­ford, a Re­pub­lic­an who won a House seat in a spe­cial elec­tion earli­er in the year, asked for and re­ceived a spe­cial ex­emp­tion to take Belén Chapur along.

San­ford gave a two-word an­swer on the con­gres­sion­al travel form when asked why he wanted to par­ti­cip­ate in the Is­rael trip. “Edu­ca­tion­al pur­poses,” he wrote.

The Amer­ic­an Is­rael Edu­ca­tion Found­a­tion spent more than $18,558 to fly San­ford and his fiancée to and from Is­rael for the weeklong jour­ney. They flew busi­ness class, re­cords show, with round-trip flights that cost more than $5,000 apiece. They were part of a del­eg­a­tion of roughly two dozen Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor and House Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy.

Many law­makers bring their spouses along on such trips. Both Can­tor and Mc­Carthy took their wives. But for San­ford to take Belén Chapur, he had to ask the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee for a waiver. Con­gres­sion­al travel rules say those in­di­vidu­als ac­com­pa­ny­ing law­makers on privately fun­ded trips are sup­posed to be re­l­at­ives.

The Eth­ics Com­mit­tee, in a let­ter to San­ford, noted that “fiancés/fiancées and un­mar­ried sig­ni­fic­ant oth­ers are not ‘re­l­at­ives’ for pur­poses of these [travel] reg­u­la­tions.” The pan­el non­ethe­less ap­proved her travel, not­ing that the reg­u­la­tions al­low “trav­el­ers to seek ad­vance, writ­ten per­mis­sion from the com­mit­tee to be ac­com­pan­ied by a non-re­l­at­ive.”

Con­gres­sion­al travel re­cords show that San­ford asked for an ex­emp­tion on Ju­ly 10. “AIEF has made an un­so­li­cited of­fer to pay for the ex­penses of her travel,” San­ford told the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee.

The pan­el, which is led by Chair­man Mike Con­away, R-Texas, and rank­ing mem­ber Linda Sanc­hez, D-Cal­if., ap­proved Belén Chapur’s travel on Ju­ly 24. The two law­makers wrote that they had the power “to grant a waiver “¦ in ‘an un­usu­al case,’ provided ‘there is no po­ten­tial con­flict or in­terest or ap­pear­ance of im­pro­pri­ety.’ “

The couple de­par­ted for Is­rael on Aug. 10 and re­turned Aug. 18. The web­site Le­giS­torm, which tracks con­gres­sion­al travel, first noted the par­ti­cip­a­tion of Belén Chapur on the trip, which in­cluded stops in Jer­u­s­alem, Beth­le­hem, Tel Aviv, and the Sea of Ga­lilee.

San­ford’s of­fice did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

While gov­ernor of South Car­o­lina in 2009, San­ford dis­ap­peared for a week, as his staff said he had gone hik­ing on the Ap­palachi­an Trail. It was later re­vealed that he had traveled to Ar­gen­tina, where he was hav­ing an af­fair with Belén Chapur. He and his wife sub­sequently di­vorced, and he served out his term as gov­ernor des­pite be­ing cen­sured by state law­makers.

San­ford was left for dead, polit­ic­ally, after he de­par­ted the gov­ernor’s of­fice in 2011. But the sur­prise resig­na­tion of then-Sen. Jim De­Mint, R-S.C., and the ap­point­ment of Tim Scott, R-S.C., opened up a House seat this year. San­ford ran in a spe­cial elec­tion, beat­ing out Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee Eliza­beth Col­bert Busch, the sis­ter of tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity Steph­en Col­bert.

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