The South Carolina State Ethics Commission says Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard had to pay steeper than normal fines for his campaign violations because he made inaccurate statements to investigators.
Ard agreed to pay the commission more than $48,000 in fines, as well as $12,500 for administrative costs. He also put an additional $12,000 back into his campaign account. A report by the commission accuses the lieutenant governor of misleading them with his explanations on spending. He was asked to account for more than 106 violations that occurred after his election in November but before he took office in January.
For example, Ard said he took out more than $2500 for a December trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with Senator Lindsey Graham. However, the senator’s office said Graham was in South Carolina that week and never met with him. The report said Graham’s chief of staff did meet with Ard and his family in Washington, but only for a few minutes.
Most of the violations were for gas and food. Ard’s attorney Karl Bowers had argued the gas purchases were justified, because the lieutenant governor had to make them while fulfilling his duties as an elected official. However, the commission said state officials are required to ask for mileage reimbursement, and not to deduct it from their campaign accounts. The commission also said that, because Ard was not yet in office, he could not use campaign funds to pay for meals that were not directly tied to political events.
The report says Ard used campaign money to pay for a video game system and his wife’s dress for the inaugural ball. Both are violations.
Ard was also questioned about a trip he made to Atlanta in November in which he stayed at the Atlanta Hyatt hotel and charged it to his campaign account. Ard had said he was invited to attend the SEC Championship football game by University of South Carolina officials. However, an investigation by the commission found the invitation was actually offered by school trustee Edward Floyd.
Floyd rescinded the offer upon learning it would be a lobbying violation and Ard was instead offered a chance to purchase tickets himself. He told the commission he reimbursed his account, but the final report said no reimbursement was reported on his January disclosure reports.
Ard had to pay $100 in fines for 69 violations, $500 in fines for 23 more serious violations, and $2,000 per violation for 15 of the most severe. The latter group included funds used on his trips to Washington and Atlanta, as well as the gown and game system.
He will not face criminal charges.