How Mark Sanford's Campaign Unraveled in the Past 48 Hours

Elahe Izadi
April 18, 2013

The South Carolina congressional special election between scandalized former Gov. Mark Sanford and Stephen Colbert's sister, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, has somehow gotten weirder.

Over the past two days, court documents detailing alleged violations of Sanford’s divorce and child-custody agreements have leaked, dominating the campaign. The Republican’s ex-wife, Jenny, accused him of repeatedly trespassing, among other things, and that's prompted the National Republican Congressional Committee to drop its support of Sanford.

Sanford’s very-public extramarital affair that led to the unraveling of his marriage has long been the biggest liability in his comeback bid. The race in a conservative district is something of a referendum on whether Republican voters have forgiven Sanford, more than their views on Colbert Busch. It's a heavily Republican district, giving Mitt Romney 58 percent of the vote in the 2012 presidential election.

News of these allegations came to light at a particularly awkward time: After being silent for nearly two weeks on the airwaves, the Sanford campaign has just come out with its first television ad since he won the GOP nomination. The ad, which hits Colbert Busch for her union support, is a striking change in tone for the Republican, whose ads are usually biographical or positive.

In a campaign e-mail, Sanford responded to the allegations by acknowledging “campaigns have ups and downs” and that, “Divorce is tragic at many levels, and should you have any future questions on this matter please call me at” his campaign office. “It's an unfortunate reality that divorced couples sometimes have disagreements that spill over into family court,” he wrote.

Below are the details in the recently revealed court documents:

(Michael Dorausch/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Trespassing—apparently more than once.

Jenny Sanford had traveled out of state to visit one of her children, and when she came home on Feb. 3, she found her ex-husband leaving her house through the backdoor “using his phone as a flashlight,” according to a complaint filed the next day by her lawyer.

The complaint claims that Mark Sanford “has entered into a pattern of entering onto” Jenny Sanford’s property, “both at her former and current residences, without her permission and against her wishes.” It goes on to state that she’s informed him on “a number of occasions that this behavior is in violation of the court’s order” and that he’s “promised that this would not happen again.” Jenny Sanford had even filed a “No Trespass” letter with her local police department, according to the complaint.

“I did indeed watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14-year-old son because as a father I didn’t think he should watch it alone,” Mark Sanford wrote in a campaign e-mail to supporters. “Given Jenny was out of town I tried to reach her beforehand to tell her of the situation that had arisen, and met her at the back steps under the light of my cell phone when she returned and told her what had happened."

When the complaint came to light, Jenny Sanford told South Carolina’s The State that her ex-husband’s “race is not a concern. I am focused on raising my children.”

“I am doing my best not to get in the way of his race," Jenny Sanford told the Associated Press. "I want him to sink or swim on his own. For the sake of my children I'm trying my best not to get in the way, but he makes things difficult for me when he does things like trespassing."

(bclinesmith/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Planes flown at children.

Something odd happened on or around Jan. 15, 2011—three days after Sanford’s last day as governor—when the couple’s children were staying at the Sanford family’s Coosaw plantation. That’s when Jenny Sanford claims her ex-husband violated the term of their child custody agreement that states “no airplanes will be flown at the children” while at Coosaw, according to a complaint filed on March 2, 2012.

Another part of the child custody agreement that states the Coosaw property needed to have a proper level of insurance “to satisfy liability claims” was also being violated on an ongoing basis, according to the complaint.

It’s unclear what the whole don’t-fly-airplanes-at-children rule meant, but small planes do take off from a grass strip near the plantation.

(Ben K Adams/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Missing college-tuition payment

Mark Sanford failed to make a court-required payment toward one of his son’s college education expenses, according to a complaint filed by Jenny Sanford on Dec. 5, 2011.

Sanford is supposed to pay $5,000 a year for each of the couple’s sons who is in college, full time. Jenny Sanford has since said the missing payment issue has been resolved.