AP reporter broke open the Mark Sanford scandal

January 1, 2013

Jim Davenport, an Associated Press reporter who worked doggedly to inform people in South Carolina about what their governors, lawmakers and other powerful officials were doing with their tax money and their influence, died Dec. 31, it was reported from Columbia, S.C. He was 54.

He had cancer, said his wife, Debra.

Mr. Davenport was the first reporter to tell the world in 2009 that Gov. Mark Sanford (R) had been missing for a couple of days, and he followed the story for years.

Mr. Davenport revealed that Sanford used taxpayer money to upgrade himself to business or first class on flights and use the state plane for personal trips. That led to Sanford paying a $74,000 fine, the biggest ethics penalty in state history.

During his 13 years with the AP, Mr. Davenport also revealed that the state Commerce Department used a private marketing account to pay for $1,000 chairs, a maid for the director’s Columbia apartment and alcohol for its Christmas parties.

He was a tireless advocate for the state’s Freedom of Information Act, coordinating the first audit that showed how little public bodies and law enforcement agencies understood about the public’s right to know.

Before entering journalism, Mr. Davenport drove a barge for a dredging operation, worked as a roadie for a band and made tires at a factory. After a stint at the State newspaper in Columbia, Mr. Davenport joined the AP’s South Carolina bureau 13 years ago. Perhaps no story better showed off his talents than the Sanford saga.

It started with a tip in June 2009 that Sanford hadn’t been in his office for several days. Mr. Davenport was first to report the governor’s disappearance and that the governor’s staff had not been in contact with him either. They suggested he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

A few hours later, Mr. Davenport was the only reporter to talk to first lady Jenny Sanford, who didn’t know where he was either, and said the governor hadn’t talked to his sons on Father’s Day.

The governor’s revelation a few days later that he was in Argentina seeing his lover made worldwide news. But that wasn’t the end of the story for Mr. Davenport. He, like many other reporters, wondered whether the governor used taxpayer money or resources for the affair. Although that proved not to be the case, Mr. Davenport followed that thread to an even bigger scoop.

Poring through the governor’s calendar, the flight records of state airplanes and other documents, Mr. Davenport learned that Sanford used the state airplane to fly him to vacation destinations, dentist appointments and a campaign donor’s birthday party. The records also showed that the governor took flights in private planes to places such as the Bahamas and did not disclose the travel in violation of ethics laws.

Sanford vigorously denied doing anything wrong but eventually pleaded no contest to 37 ethics violations. The famously frugal governor had to pay a $74,000 fine and $36,498 to cover the costs of the investigation.

— Associated Press

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