Washington, D.C. — Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint against Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) with the Office of Congressional Ethics for violating House ethics rules by accepting more than $100,000 in stock from mortgage broker Lending Tree’s parent company, Tree.com.
Cick here to read CREW's complaint to the OCE.
Tree.com put Rep. Sanford on its board of directors in 2012, before he was elected to Congress. He was partially paid with “restricted stock units” — stock awards that had no value until vested in June 2013 and June 2014. When Rep. Sanford won a seat in the House in May 2013, he resigned from the board, making his unvested shares worthless. On June 19, 2013, however, Tree.com’s board voted to retroactively vest Rep. Sanford’s shares, at a value of at least $108,539.
“Rep. Sanford was already the world’s most famous trail guide, but now he’s found a way to make money grow on trees,” said Anne Weismann, CREW’s Interim Executive Director. “Taking $100,000 in stock he didn’t earn from Lending Tree, a corporation that could have business before Congress, is exactly the sort of impropriety the gift rules are designed to address.”
Gifts to members of the House are highly restricted. Members may receive employment benefits or severance packages from a former employer, but only if those benefits were not offered or enhanced because of the member’s official position and the package is no greater than what was given to similar employees who did not work for the House. Before Tree.com vested Rep. Sanford’s stock, the only time it even accelerated the vesting of restricted shares was for Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC), another public official, and it had never retroactively vested any stock. By contrast, the company did not accelerate vesting for a director and several officials after their departure.
This is far from Rep. Sanford’s first ethical lapse. While governor of South Carolina, he lied to cover up his extramarital affair, claiming he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when in fact he was in Argentina with his mistress. He also violated South Carolina ethics laws by using state funds to pay for first class flights to Argentina and using state aircraft for other personal trips, and was forced to pay $74,000 in fines.
“The second act of Mark Sanford’s political life seems to be just as corrupt as the first. Given his apparent inability to follow basic ethics rules, the OCE must conduct a full investigation into any violations Rep. Sanford may have committed by taking a special deal that no one else at Lending Tree got,” Weismann added.