MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. - Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said today he visited his ex-wife's home while she was out of town because he didn't want his 14-year-old son to watch the Super Bowl alone - a visit that she says violated their divorce settlement.
A day earlier, Jenny Sanford confirmed the authenticity of court documents obtained by The Associated Press that say her ex-husband violated their divorce settlement by repeatedly visiting her Sullivans Island home - most recently on Feb. 3, using his cellphone as a flashlight. He has been ordered to appear at a court hearing May 9, two days after the election.
The news brought a quick response from the National Republican Congressional Committee in announcing it would not spend any additional money to support Mark Sanford's bid for a congressional seat in South Carolina.
Andrea Bozek, an NRCC spokeswoman, said Sanford has proven he knows what it takes to win elections and the group won't be engaged in the contest. The committee didn't immediately know how much had been spent on the race.
The decision was first reported by Politico.
Republicans were blindsided by the news of Jenny Sanford's complaint and made the decision not to spend more money on Sanford's race after concluding that it would be difficult for Sanford to make inroads with women voters.
Sanford issued a statement today characterizing the matter with his wife as a disagreement.
"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," Sanford said. "Given she 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 cellphone when she returned and told her what had happened."
He and Jenny Sanford divorced in 2010 after it became public that he secretly left the state to be with his Argentine mistress. Mark Sanford and that woman, Maria Chapur, are now engaged. Sanford vanished from the state for five days, with his staff telling reporters he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Once mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, he left the Governor's Mansion in disgrace.
Before leaving office, Sanford avoided impeachment but was censured by the Legislature over state travel expenses he used for the affair. He also paid what is still the largest ethics fine ever in South Carolina at $70,000.
The complaint says Jenny Sanford confronted the former governor leaving her Sullivans Island home on Feb. 3 by a rear door, using his cellphone for a flashlight. Her attorney filed the complaint the next day.
The couple's divorce settlement says neither may enter the other's home without permission. Mark Sanford lives about a 20-minute drive away from Sullivans Island in downtown Charleston.
Jenny Sanford said the complaint, and the timing of the hearing, has nothing to do with her husband's attempt to rebuild his political career by winning the congressional seat he held for three terms in the 1990s.
At the hearing, Sanford will have to show why he should not be held in contempt for violating the couple's divorce settlement.
"I am doing my best not to get in the way of his race," Jenny Sanford, who for a time considered running herself, told the AP. "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."
Sanford's opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch - the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert - has refused to comment on the development.
She was asked several times by reporters after she visiting patrons having lunch at a Mount Pleasant diner.
"We're going to focus on the positive message of job creation for this district," she said.
The complaint filed by Jenny Sanford's lawyer, Deena Smith McRackan, said Mark Sanford has "entered into a pattern of entering onto plaintiff's property. Plaintiff has informed defendant on a number of occasions that this behavior is in violation of the court's order and has demanded that it not occur again."
In February 2011, McRackan sent a letter to Mark Sanford telling him not to trespass on Jenny Sanford's property. A copy of that letter was also sent to the local police, according to court filings.
Sanford, who has never lost an election, is trying to make a comeback after his political career was sidelined in 2009 after confessing an extramarital affair. As a sitting governor, he disappeared from the state for five days only to return and confess his affair with Chapur.
Jenny Sanford said Tuesday that she has custody of the couple's four boys.
In December of 2011, she brought another complaint against her former husband saying Sanford had not made the $5,000 yearly contribution for one of their sons' college education. Jenny Sanford said that issue has now been resolved and declined to comment further.
Sanford, Colbert Busch and Green Party candidate Eugene Platt are seeking the congressional seat once held by Tim Scott, who last year was appointed to the U.S. Senate.