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How Mark Sanford Used Two Piglets To Fight Pork Barrel Spending

By Ralph Benko

Excerpt from

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) in his Capitol Hill offices. For some years my sources inside the Congress have been reporting that Rep. Sanford is, in a behind-the-scenes way, one of the most respected and influential Members of Congress on all matters regarding economic, especially fiscal, policy. He’s a rare bird: a true anti-spending hawk.

Sanford’s economic intellect and Constitutional integrity are so respected that his advice is quietly sought, and given careful consideration, by leadership. His conservative bona fides, as a member of the House Freedom Caucus, are impeccable. An unfortunate, overdramatized, incident in his personal life — which his constituents do not hold against him — really is immaterial. If one recognizes Members of Congress as mortals rather than gods, it could even be held an endearing if clumsy display of the soul of a star-crossed romantic lurking beneath an Eagle Scout persona.

Therefore, it was a pleasure to get a first-hand account of how Sanford, when governor, deployed two piglets to pressure the South Carolina state legislature to accelerate the elimination of a $150M accumulated deficit. $150M isn’t much by federal standards. Per a 2010 article in The Washington Post it is less than a third of what the Defense Department spends, per year, on its marching bands.

That said, this profligacy was a big deal to then-Governor Sanford and for South Carolina.

South Carolina’s state constitution (unlike the federal constitution) forbids deficit spending. Sanford, as governor, discovered that some accounting tricks had been used in the service of overspending on pork. He was appalled.

This was not mere profligacy. It was a breach of integrity by the state government that he led. What he did and how he did it provides a nice lesson in politics as well as showing Sanford to be ready to use extraordinary means to fight for the taxpayers and for justice.

The lesson? In politics, logic alone rarely prevails.

As described at the time by Jennifer Talhelm and Valerie Bauerlein in The State:

With cameras rolling and lawmakers and lobbyists gaping, Sanford stood just outside the House chambers, pigs wriggling under his arms, pig feces on his jacket and shoes, and criticized House members for burying pork-barrel projects in the budget.

House members on Wednesday angered Sanford by accepting just one of his 106 vetoes of items in the state budget. Sanford also criticized lawmakers for relying on the sale of property – and not savings – to pay down the last $16 million of a $155 million deficit.


“Pork won and taxpayers lost,” Sanford said. “I find it unbelievable to think there’s not one additional dollar in savings that could go to pay down that unconstitutional $16 million debt.”


House leaders countered quickly, saying Sanford had taken a previously genteel argument over fiscal responsibility to a new low.


“It’s beneath the dignity of the governor to bring pigs in the State House outside the chamber just to get a photo opportunity,” said House Speaker David Wilkins, his jaw set, his eyes down. “This is the people’s House. He defiled it.”


Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, defended the governor.


“Sometimes we have to embarrass people to make them understand what they have done,” he said.

Sanford ‘s news conference lasted just 10 minutes. At the end, the governor, who said he spent summers growing up on a farm, swiftly scooped up the piglets – dubbed “Pork” and “Barrel” — and marched back to his office.

Here’s the backstory as provided by Rep. Sanford to me.

Then-Gov. Sanford discovered this hidden accumulated debt. He worked out, with the state legislature, a plan to pay it off fully over three years. He then went and briefed the Wall Street credit rating agencies. These proved content with the plan and did not downgrade South Carolina’s credit rating.

And then… the economy suddenly turned up and, with it, state tax revenues. There was enough new money to pay the accumulated debt off immediately. Sanford drove his staff around the clock for weeks to find ways of cutting the excess pork (by the barrel) out of the legislature’s proposed budget, using his line-item veto to get this done immediately rather than on the installment plan.

Sanford could have finessed the matter, sticking with the installment plan in place. But he wanted to do the right thing by the state constitution and by the taxpayers. As reported at the time by GoUpState he said, “I think we have a constitutional requirement to pay it off rather than pay for pork projects around the state.”

He took his proposed vetoes of the new pork barrels to the grandees of the state legislature. They, seeing lots of lovely new money pouring in, weren’t having any of it. The legislature’s leadership told him that they were going to override his vetoes wholesale.

Sanford reasoned with them.

Wheedled them.

Pleaded with them.

No dice.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Sanford decided to dramatize, rather than back off, the standoff.


Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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