Ken Ard resigned as South Carolina's lieutenant governor this morning after little more than a year in office. In accordance with state law, his position has been filled by Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, who previously served as a state senator representing Charleston County.
McConnell's Senate seat will be filled by a special election, the date of which has not yet been announced. He would have been up for re-election this November.
Just weeks after Ard was sworn in as the state's second-in-command in January 2011, Free Times reporter Corey Hutchins reported that Ard had spent tens of thousands of dollars of campaign money on personal expenses since being elected in November 2010 (and by the way, Corey's doing a bit of well-deserved strutting today with a massive article on the resignation).
Over the following months, Ard's story would gain the national spotlight after it was revealed that his purchases included an $800 dress for his wife and a Playstation 3. Today, the State Grand Jury announced that it had indicted Ard on seven misdemeanor counts of violating the State Ethics Act. If convicted, he faces up to $35,000 in fines and seven years in prison. (If you're ready to get hopping mad, read the PDF of the indictment here.)
A press release from Attorney General Alan Wilson's office today said Ard was being charged with a scheme "to create the false appearance of a groundswell of political support through fictitious or bogus campaign contributions." Ard is being accused of funneling $75,000 of his own cash through "supporters" who gave it right back to him.
Ard is also accused of reporting $87,500 in "phantom" contributions, in which he either fudged the amount of a contribution to make it seem higher or claimed donations from people who did not contribute to his campaign at all. Ard is charged with four counts of unlawful reimbursement of campaign contributions, two counts of falsely filing campaign reports, and one count encompassing multiple acts of personal use of campaign funds — including shopping trips to Best Buy and Half Moon Outfitters and a family vacation to Washington, D.C.
In his resignation letter to Gov. Nikki Haley this morning, Ard was succinct, saying he had determined it was "in the best interest of our State and of the people of South Carolina" for him to resign. When questioned by the Free Times last January, Ard said, “I’ll be honest, I’m not really good at dotting i’s and crossing t’s, but I’ve got a lot — a lot — of money in here, and I’m certainly not spending any money on my own personal behalf. I’ve got a vast amount of my personal wealth tied up in this campaign, and I’m just trying to recoup as much of that as I can.”
In a statement today about the indictment, Wilson wrote that "campaign funds cannot be used as a candidate’s own personal slush fund because the candidate may then become susceptible to the influence of special interests." The State Grand Jury has heard testimony from 18 witnesses and received 7,000 pages worth of documents in relation to Ard's case.
Some commentators had speculated that McConnell would resign from his Senate seat before Ard made his announcement in an effort to avoid being called up to the lieutenant governor's office, but McConnell announced today that he would take the position.
"After much thought, prayer, and discussion, I have decided that I have a moral obligation to my oath of office and to the Constitution of this state," McConnell said in a press release. "It is an obligation that compels me to do the right thing no matter how difficult it may be to me personally."
As Lieutenant Governor, McConnell is now the president of the Senate and head of the Office on Aging, and he would assume the role of governor if Gov. Haley were removed from office or unable to serve.