October 25, 2014

Timeline of the rise and fall of Lt. Gov. Ken Ard

Former Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard rose from relative obscurity to statewide office, to scandal, to disgrace– all in a 16-month period. Here is a brief account of how it happened.

–November 3, 2010: Former Florence County councilman Ken Ard wins the election for the Lieutenant Governor’s Office as part of a Republican sweep of the state’s constitutional offices. Ard won 56 percent of the vote to Democrat Ashley Cooper’s 43 percent. Having risen quickly from quiet Pee Dee politician to a heartbeat away from becoming governor, Ard was considered a rising star in the South Carolina GOP.

–January 12, 2011: Ard is inaugurated as South Carolina’s 86th Lt. Governor. He told South Carolina Radio Network at the time that he would try to keep a low profile and keep the politics out of his duties presiding over the Senate.

–Roughly two weeks into his term, the Columbia Free Times weekly newspaper publishes an article questioning more than $20,000 in personal purchases Ard allegedly made with his campaign funds election night and inauguration day. Shortly afterwards, the State Ethics Commission sends a letter to Ard inquiring about those purchases. (See original letter here)

–The Ethics Commission follows up a week later with a second letter that charged several fines against Ard for campaign violations he committed in his days as a county councilman. The three $100 fines were for not filing campaign disclosure forms on time.

–March 17: The Ethics Commission completes its investigation and charges Ard with 92 ethics violations for spending nearly $25,000 in campaign funds on personal items. These include paying for an Atlanta hotel room the same night that South Carolina played in the SEC Football Championship, nearly $2,000 on airfare, and $3,000 on “computer equipment.” That number later increased to 106 violations. Ard was facing more than $200,000 in fines, but the charges themselves were not enough to remove him from office.

–June 30: Ard’s office releases a statement saying that the Lt. Gov. had settled the ethics investigation against him by agreeing to reimburse his campaign $12,120 and pay $61,000 in fines to the state. However, five days later the Ethics Commission revealed the issue was far from settled– a complete report accused Ard of providing misleading information to investigators. The commission turns the case over to state Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office to determine if criminal charges are needed.

–July 14: the Free Times publishes a new report, this time finding a campaign staffer improperly listed as giving $2,000 to Ard’s campaign. The staffer told the paper she had never donated the money, but it was instead given in her name. Shortly afterwards, the state Attorney General’s Office begins looking into these new accusations, as well.

–July 20: Wilson turns the case over to a state grand jury.

–March 9, 2012: After nearly eight months, rumors begin flying around the political establishment that the grand jury has reached a decision. This seems to be confirmed when the Lieutenant Governor’s Office releases a statement at 10:00 a.m. from Ard announcing his resignation.

Three hours later, at 1:00 p.m., the Attorney General’s Office reveals Ard has been indicted on seven violations of the state Ethics Act. Those indictments accuse Ard of arranging several phony contributions. In those cases, Ard paid at least $75,000 to others so they could then turn around and donate the money right back, making it appear he had more financial support than actually existed.

At about 3:30 p.m., Ard pleads guilty before a state circuit judge, tearfully apologizing to his family and to South Carolinians. He is sentenced to five months probation and 300 hours of community service.