State ethics investigators have charged Lt. Gov. Ken Ard with 69 counts of spending campaign money for his personal use and 23 counts of failing to disclose campaign expenses.
Ard, who took office in November, has been under scrutiny since taking office for thousands of dollars of purchases, including meals and hotel rooms – particularly those made post-election – listed on his campaign finance reports.
In a news release, the State Ethics Commission said it found probable cause for the charges and likely will send out a hearing notice next week.
As lieutenant governor, Ard fills a part-time position with little real power, presiding over the state Senate and overseeing the state’s Office on Aging. The lieutenant governor also becomes governor should the governor die or resign from office.
Questionable campaign expenses by Ard, a Florence Republican, were first reported by an alternative weekly, Columbia’s Free Times. “I’ve got a vast amount of my personal wealth tied up in this campaign, and I’m just trying to recoup as much of that as I can,” the paper quoted Ard as saying in February.
Ard said in a news release Wednesday that he would cooperate with the investigation. “As I’ve said from the beginning, if I’ve made any mistakes or errors, I will take full responsibility for them, correct them and move forward.”
Similar ethics charges against former Gov. Mark Sanford resulted in a more than $100,000 fine.
While the Ethics Commission had started an informal review of Ard’s expenses, Columbia resident Matthew K. Watson filed an official complaint with the agency. Watson questioned more than $20,000 that Ard spent after the Nov. 3 election.
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