Ethics probe says SC Lt Gov spent on meals, trips

AP News
Posted: Mar 18, 2011 5:42 PM

South Carolina's lieutenant governor improperly used thousands of dollars in campaign donations to pay for meals at restaurants, a family vacation to Washington, computer equipment and a gown for his wife, state ethics investigators said Friday.

In all, Lt. Gov. Ken Ard faces 106 civil charges claiming he spent campaign money for personal purchases and filed incorrect campaign reports. He faces potential fines of more than $200,000. The State Ethics Commission detailed the allegations in documents released Friday.

The documents accuse Ard of freely spending campaign funds after he won the November election. They claim he used the funds to pay for hundreds of dollars in gasoline, rooms in posh hotels around the state, lavish meals at high-end restaurants and small charges at fast-food joints.

Ard, a former Florence County councilman, has said he would cooperate with the commission. He declined to comment Friday through a spokeswoman. On Wednesday, he said in a statement that he would take responsibility for any errors he has made and correct them.

South Carolina elects lieutenant governors separately from its governors for a part-time job that pays $46,545 yearly. Ard's responsibilities include presiding over the state Senate and overseeing the state's Office on Aging.

The allegations of misspending against Ard include $1,300 for two hotel stays in November, after the election; $1,267 for plane tickets for his family's December vacation to Washington; and nearly $800 for his wife's inaugural gown.

The largest single amount was $3,056 for computer equipment at Best Buy in Florence. The smallest was $1.67 for food at the Breakers resort in Myrtle Beach.

The commission's review of Ard's campaign finances represents at least the second time in two years that one of the state's highest office holders has faced an ethics inquiry. Investigations by The Associated Press and other media into former Gov. Mark Sanford's travel and campaign practices after he acknowledged an affair with an Argentine woman in 2009 prompted an inquiry and charges that brought a $74,000 ethics fine, the largest in state history.

And the allegations against Ard come during a week of tough news for South Carolina Republicans, which politically weak Democrats have seized upon in the conservative state.

First it was revealed that Gov. Nikki Haley's application for her past job as a hospital fundraiser appeared to have inflated the amount of money she made working for her parents' clothing store. The application said she made $125,000, while her tax records show she made $22,000. Haley denied filling out the application.

Then came news she had replaced a wealthy and popular benefactor from the University of South Carolina's board of trustees with a campaign donor.