A South Carolina state Senate investigator says Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston) improperly used his campaign funds on personal expenses— including gym memberships, a home improvement loan, and even a male enhancement drug.
During an Ethics Committee hearing Thursday, Senate staffer Lyn Odom presented some of the findings from his investigation into Ford’s finances. Odom said he first began looking into the Charleston senator’s situation after noticing some discrepancies in his campaign disclosure forms.
Ford’s attorney William Runyon admitted that Ford had not filled out campaign forms properly, but insisted that was the result of sloppiness, not bad intentions.
The Ethics Committee will resume its hearing Friday morning.
The proceedings became somewhat bizarre after Odom said a debit card linked to Ford’s campaign account was used to purchase items from the businesses Lion’s Den Adult Books and Video and Pleasant Gifts, LLC. Odom claimed Pleasant Gifts is a front for the “adult” store Badd Kitty. The Myrtle Beach company’s website says it is the “Purrrfect store for couples” and sells lingerie, sex toys, and other products. Odom did not say what was purchased with the card.
Ford insisted that the products were gifts for staffers. He accused members of the Ethics Committee of trying to make him look like a crook.
Ford mentioned that he had also used the card to buy ties for some of the Statehouse security guards, which would also be a violation.
“It’s not like I’m going to take some money from my campaign and do something personally. No,” Ford told the committee. However, he only spoke for a few minutes in the three-hour hearing and stopped shortly after being put under oath.
Then Odom pointed out another expense on the debit card— for “Cyvita,” a male-enhancement drug. Members of the committee seemed taken aback by that charge. Ford himself replied, “I don’t know what that is.”
Runyon said the bank made a clerical error on the forms and that Ford had never bought the drug. But Odom noted there were no records of the senator receiving a refund or credit for a fraudulent purchase.
Odom said he began looking into Ford’s records after noticing discrepancies on loan payments the senator had reported earlier this year. The staffer said the bank had no corresponding records showing that Ford made those payments on the dates listed by the Charleston senator.
Odom said further digging found that Ford never took out a loan for his campaign. Instead, the Charleston senator had secured a home improvement loan in his own name for another individual.
Runyon said Odom could show no evidence proving the money had actually gone into home repairs. He said Ford had financed his campaign through personal loans. “I have to be candid with the tribunal,” he told the committee, “The accounting is inaccurate, but the methodology was to fund the campaign. But… he didn’t do it correctly.”
However, during Runyon’s questioning, Odom accused Ford of purposely misleading him. “Do I think he was trying to con me? Based on what was (later) produced, I do.”
The only outside testimony on Thursday was from Don Clark, a Columbia gallery owner who often creates frames used for Statehouse art. Ford reported spending $6,500 to buy frames from the business, but Clark said the actual amount was much lower.
“If you divide what he says I framed for him… it would come out to over 130 frames. I can’t frame that many,” he said.
Odom also listed a Charleston gym, car insurance, and medical care from the Medical University of South Carolina as questionable campaign expenses. In all, he said Ford had taken more than $19,000 in campaign donations and deposited the funds into personal accounts.