Last Friday morning, Ken Ard resigned as South Carolina's lieutenant governor 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.
Just weeks after Ard was sworn in as the state's second-in-command in January 2011, the Columbia alt-weekly Free Times reported that Ard had spent tens of thousands of dollars of campaign money on personal expenses since being elected in November 2010. Over the following months, Ard's story would gain the national spotlight after it was revealed that he had used a campaign credit card to pay for over $25,000 in personal expenses after the election was over (see list below). He ended up paying $48,400 in fines for those campaign ethics violations.
Last Friday, Ard stepped down just in time for another bombshell: The State Grand Jury announced that it had indicted Ard on seven misdemeanor counts of violating the State Ethics Act, and Ard pleaded guilty on all seven counts. He faced up to $35,000 in fines and seven years in prison, but Judge Thomas Cooper gave him five years' probation and a $5,000 fine.
A press release from Attorney General Alan Wilson's office explained that Ard had been charged with a scheme "to create the false appearance of a groundswell of political support through fictitious or bogus campaign contributions." On Ard's admission, he funneled $75,000 of his own cash through "supporters" who gave it right back to him.
Ard also admitted to reporting $87,500 in "phantom" contributions, in which he either exaggerated the dollar amount of a contribution or claimed donations from people who did not contribute to his campaign at all. Specifically, Ard was charged with four counts of unlawful reimbursement of campaign contributions, two counts of falsely filing campaign reports, and one count of personal use of campaign funds — including for clothes at Half-Moon Outfitters and a family vacation to Washington, D.C.
In his resignation letter to Gov. Nikki Haley last Friday 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 Friday 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 Friday that he would take the position (see more on page 17).
"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."
Wilson said Friday that 70 people had been interviewed by SLED and the Attorney General's office in the case. The State Grand Jury heard testimony from 18 witnesses and received 113 documents totaling about 7,000 pages in length.
"Nothing is more important than our election process," Wilson said in a press release. "The people have a right to true and accurate information so that voters can make their own judgment as to whom to vote for. If the process is falsely manipulated, its purpose is destroyed."
Did you give money to the campaign to elect Ken Ard as lieutenant governor in 2010? If you did, your donation may have gone to pay Ard's personal expenses after he won the election.
In June 2011, Ard agreed to pay $48,400 in fines to resolve a slew of campaign finance law violations. On some of the counts he confessed, but on others he only agreed to pay a fine. Here's some of the stuff he was charged with buying with his campaign slush fund after the election was over:
• $808.10 for 18 fuel expenditures, which Ard said were for travel to meet with past and prospective contributors. • $1,699.03 for meals, including 17 in Florence and Hemingway, 13 in Columbia, two in Washington, D.C., two in Myrtle Beach, and two in Charleston. The meals ranged in price from $1.67 to $204.12. • $369.60 for lodging at the Hilton in Omaha, Neb. • $279 for lodging at the Hyatt in Atlanta, Ga., while attending the Southeastern Conference Championship football game. • $168 for two tickets to the SEC Championship. • $722.33 for lodging in Columbia and $577.96 for lodging in Charleston, which Ard claimed were campaign-related trips. • $1,266.50 for airfare, $721.08 for lodging, $327.52 for meals, and $228 for limo services for his family's Christmas trip to Washington, D.C., a trip that Ard said at the time was so he could talk about economic development with Sen. Lindsey Graham. The senator's office denied that this meeting ever took place as the senator was, in fact, in South Carolina for the holiday. • $799.20 for a dress from a shop in Florence called Cynthia. Ard said he bought it for his wife to wear to his inauguration ceremony. • $3,056.30 for a Playstation 3, a 46" Sony flat-screen television, an iPod Touch 8G, an iPod charger, an iPod case, a set of Sony earbud headphones, a Monster HDMI cable, and two 32G iPads from a Best Buy in Florence. These items were listed as "computer equip" on Ard's disclosure report, and he claimed they were for his home office. • $560.67 for a pair of men's Clarks Wallabee shoes, another pair of shoes that had to be special ordered, a men's North Face WindWall jacket, a pair of Columbia ROC pants, a pair of Columbia Lander pants, a Half-Moon Outfitters long-sleeve T-shirt, and a pair of men's Clarks Agency boots at Half-Moon Outfitters. He also got a free T-shirt for spending over $500. • $313.51 for a pair of ladies' black/multi tweed pants, two ladies' turtlenecks (pink and red), and a pair of ladies' black corduroy pants from Talbots. • $23.63 for a ladies' Ponte skirt and a ladies' fashion turtleneck from the Gap. • $350 to $500 each for five payments to Verizon Wireless for cell phone service that included four staff campaign phones, a wireless air card, and a cell phone used exclusively by his wife for personal purposes.