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Ard's ethics violations put spotlight on office

Posted: July 26, 2011 1:22 p.m.
Updated: July 27, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Ken Ard has turned his job as lieutenant governor from one of virtual irrelevancy to one shrouded in controversy and scrutiny after racking up thousands of dollars in ethics violations since being sworn in six months ago. 

Ard went on a spending spree with his campaign dollars last November after beating Democratic nominee Ashley Cooper to become lieutenant governor. Some of his more interesting expenditures include $3,000 for “computer equipment” at a Best Buy, which were more accurately found to be a PlayStation 3, a flat-screen television and iPads. The lieutenant governor also reportedly spent $800 on a dress for his wife at an upscale women’s clothing store, $279 for a hotel room during a trip to the SEC championship game in Atlanta, and $2,500 on a visit to Sen. Lindsey Graham in Washington D.C., which according to Graham’s office never actually occurred. All of these “expenses” were paid for with campaign money.  

The role of the lieutenant governor has essentially been a nominal post in the Palmetto State for decades, but the spotlight is now shining brightly on the state’s second-in-command. After these violations were noted, Ard was ordered to pay a fine of $48,000 to the State Ethics Commission, reimburse the agency $12,500 for fees related to the investigation, and to reimburse his own campaign account for around $12,000.

All sorts of questions now surround Ard’s job. Should Ard face a grand jury investigation? Should he be forced to resign? Should the lieutenant governor’s position simply be eliminated due to its immaterial role in the state’s power structure?

The State Democratic Party, led by Chairman Dick Harpootlian, called for Ard to resign last week citing the fact that the lieutenant governor had admitted to violating the law and doing it for personal gain. Harpootlian added that the case needs to go to a grand jury to consider prosecuting Ard. State Attorney General Alan Wilson has already sent a request for a grand jury investigation to the State Law Enforcement Division and a state judge for approval.

This is not the first time Ard has been in hot water for campaign ethics violations. Ard faced similar problems as a councilman in Florence County. He was fined $45,700 for missing deadlines for campaign disclosures in 2006 as a member of county council. The fee was eventually reduced to $1,100, but the Associated Press reported he again failed to file campaign disclosures for his 2008 re-election campaign.

Ard’s tribulations compound issues faced by the Palmetto State’s last lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer. Bauer faced heavy criticism in January 2010 after he compared public school children receiving subsidized lunches to stray animals. He was also pulled over for speeding twice in the span of four months in 2006. On one of those occasions, he was clocked at over 100 mph on I-77, yet didn’t receive a traffic ticket. Despite Bauer’s high profile or perhaps because of it, he finished fourth in the governor’s race last November.

If the lieutenant governor is pushed out of office, the President pro Tempore of the Senate, Sen. Glen McConnell, would take over the position. However, McConnell’s current role virtually eclipses the power of the lieutenant governor and it’s likely the senator would not be too enthusiastic about succeeding Ard.

McConnell may never have to face that dilemma, however, if Ard doesn’t resign or isn’t forced out by the General Assembly. Harpootlian and Democratic Reps. Boyd Brown, Bakari Sellers and James Smith called for legislation last week that may help get Ard and fellow scandal-ridden politicians out of office by allowing for the recalling of elected officials in the state. Rep. Brown introduced a similar bill in the midst of former Gov. Mark Sanford’s refusal to accept federal stimulus funds in early 2009. The idea was stirred up again when Sanford went on his infamous “hike on the Appalachian trail.”

Even Gov. Nikki Haley has backed the recall legislation. Some have noted, however, that Haley might one day face her own costly scandal as problems surrounding alleged affairs and alleged fraudulent information provided on a 2008 job application have dogged Haley since becoming governor.

Interestingly, in one of his own campaign videos, Ard said he was not a policy wonk, Constitutional scholar, or intellectual heavyweight. This seems like an apt description for a man who may soon need to ditch that new flat-screen TV to avoid the flood of jokes likely to come from late night talk show hosts and fake-news anchors like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.

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