Update: Ard Pleads Guilty to Ethics Charges
Lt. Gov. Ard out over ethics violations
Update: Ard Pleads Guilty To 7 Charges, Sentenced to Probation, Community Service
A judge sentenced former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Ken Ard to five years probation Friday afternoon after Ard admitted campaign ethics violations.
Ard pled guilty to seven ethics charges Friday afternoon, hours after resigning his position.
Ard will also have to do 300 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 fine. He could have been sentenced to up to one year in jail on each charge.
A state Grand Jury indicted Ard on seven charges of violating ethics laws Friday following a months-long investigation into his use of campaign finances.
Attorney General Alan Wilson said the ethics violations were unprecedented and represented a total ignorance of campaign finance laws.
"The State Grand jury charges Mr. Ard with a scheme developed as part of his candidacy for Lt. Gov. to create the false appearance of a groundswell of political support through fictious or bogus campaign contributions," Wilson said.
Wilson said Ard funneled $75,000 of his own money to members of the community who then returned the money to the campaign to create the appearance of support.
The blog FITSNews first reported on the cash-for-contributions allegations last September.
"Campaign transparency was in reality campaign deceit," Wilson said.
Wilson said the Grand Jury charged Ard with four counts of unlawful reimbursement of campaign funds, two counts of falsely filing campaign reports and one count of personal use of campaign funds, which included shopping trips to Best Buy and a family vacation to Washington, D.C.
Wilson said Ard decided to resign when he learned that a conviction on the indictments would require him to leave his position.
"This investigation is unprecendented in terms of who is involved and what crimes are alleged to be involved," Wilson said. "To our knowledge the creation of such a fictious campaign has never been criminally charged before in the state’s history."
Update: McConnell to Replace Ard
Sen. Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) will replace Ken Ard as South Carolina's Lt. Governor.
McConnell had been reluctant to accept the position, but the South Carolina Constitution mandates that the President Pro Tem replace the Lt. Governor.
"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 statement. "My entire political career I have fought to uphold the Constitution, and I will not stop today no matter how difficult it may be to me personally."
As of noon Friday, there was no indication about who would replace McConnell as the leader of the Senate.
South Carolina Lt. Gov. Ken Ard announced his resignation Friday and could plead guilty to ethics charges as early as this afternoon.
"I must take full ownership and resign from the Office of Lieutenant Governor," Ard said in a resignation letter to Gov. Nikki Haley. "I am deeply sorry and take full responsibility."
Gov. Nikki Haley released a statement following Ard's resignation. It reads:
“Michael and I appreciate the service Ken and Tammy Ard have given to the state of South Carolina. They are good people who have given much of their time and efforts to Florence and the state as a whole. I valued Ken's partnership and wish Ken and his family all of the best going forward. I look forward to continuing the progress South Carolina has made in the last 15 months with our next Lieutenant Governor.”
Ard stands accused of campaign finance violations that include using campaign donations for personal expenses. A grand jury also investigated whether Ard lied in an attempt to cover up the finance violations.
"There are no excuses nor is there need to share blame," Ard said. "It is my fault that the events of the past year have taken place."
Attorney General Alan Wilson and SLED Chief Mark Keel will hold a joint press conference at 1 p.m., likely to discuss Ard's case.
Ard said he would officially submit his resignation sometime Friday morning, which gives the Senate time to plan for his replacement.
According the the South Carolina Constitution, Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) stands as next-in-line to replace Ard. But an article in The State questioned whether McConnell wanted to leave his position in the Senate to take on the role of Lt. Gov.
"Lt. Gov. Ard has taken responsibility for his actions," SCGOP Chairman Chad Connelly said. "His resignation will help our state move past this sad and unfortunate incident."
Tim Callanan has worked with candidates as the Berkeley County Republican Party chairman and has managed his own campaigns for Berkeley County Council.
Callanan said the state ethics guidelines are a minefield of complicated legal requirements that can cause a mountain of unintended fines.
"But the Ken Ard case had to do with a lack of common sense and management," he said.
There's a legal way for candidates to loan money to their campaigns and reimburse that cost without going on a shopping spree, Callanan noted. A good finance manager — a necessity for any statewide campaign — can help a candidate do it right.
Corey Hutchins of the Columbia Free-Times first broke the story of Ard's alleged campaign violations last January.
Wilson referred the case the a grand jury last July and in recent week, questions about the grand jury's findings have mounted.