COLUMBIA — Robert Ford’s attorney says the ethics violations the longtime Charleston senator is accused of are the result of sloppy bookkeeping.
On Wednesday, the Senate Ethics Committee announced that it had found probable cause to substantiate allegations that Ford violated seven areas of state ethics law.
Among the allegations are that Ford, a Democrat, inappropriately spent campaign funds and failed to report campaign contributions and spending over a period of four years.
Ford, 64, did not respond to requests for comment from The Post and Courier Wednesday or Thursday, and was not at his West Ashley home Thursday. A spokesman for the Senate Democratic Caucus reiterated Thursday that Ford and the caucus have no comment on the allegations.
Ford’s longtime attorney, Bill Runyon of Charleston, said Thursday that from what he’s read so far, the issues are related to failure to document campaign expenses or inadequate explanations of campaign spending.
“He has not been very good at bookkeeping,” Runyon said of Ford.
Runyon said Ford handles his own campaign finance reports.
Runyon said he had seen only the announcement of the allegations against Ford, not all the evidence the Ethics Committee has compiled against the senator. “I’m the fireman. When something blazes up I get called,” Runyon said.
Ford and Runyon are entitled to view the evidence the committee has.
Runyon said he plans to meet with Ethics Committee staff in the next week to 10 days and anticipates filing a response to the allegations before the 15-day deadline to do so.
Although the Ethics Committee alleges that Ford’s violations date to July 2009, Runyon said he believes a loan Ford took out last year to fund his campaign ahead of his re-election last November is responsible for a “large amount” of the allegations against Ford.
“What little we know at this time, what’s central to this whole thing, is a loan for $8,500 from NBSC to fund his campaign,” Runyon said.
The attorney said Ford did not provide the State Ethics Commission adequate indications that payments on the loan were campaign-related.
The commission handles campaign finance reporting for elected officials in South Carolina.
“He hasn’t adequately put in the information they need to say, ‘Yeah, this is a proper campaign expenditure,’ ” Runyon said of Ford.
Runyon stressed that he needs to see all the evidence against Ford before he can fully respond.
He said he didn’t know if Ford had paid off the loan. Runyon said Ford has used loans to finance his campaigns in the past.
“His campaigns have never been fully funded by contributions,” Runyon said.
In Legislature publications, Ford is listed as a developer.
Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Luke Rankin, R-Conway, said Thursday that he could not comment on the specific allegations against Ford. “It will be an open and transparent process,” Rankin said. “And we will afford everyone due process as it’s written under the rules.”
Ford and Runyon will have the opportunity to appear at an open hearing where Ethics Committee members ultimately will determine whether Ford has violated the law. A date for that hearing has not yet been set.
A staffer for the 10-member committee said Thursday that he also could not comment on the case beyond the information contained in Wednesday’s announcement of the allegations against Ford.
Runyon said he has been Ford’s attorney since 1977, when as a Charleston City councilman, Ford was suspended from his seat after being charged with forgery. He was acquitted and reinstated.
“It doesn’t pay much, but the work’s steady,” Runyon said of working for Ford.
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