Senate Ethics Committee accuses Sen. Robert Ford of trying to deceive panel
COLUMBIA — The Senate Ethics Committee on Thursday accused state Sen. Robert Ford of intentionally altering documents in an attempt to deceive the panel.
The new allegation comes in addition to an April complaint by the committee accusing the Charleston Democrat of violating seven areas of state ethics law over the past four years, including using money from his campaign account for personal expenses.
The Senate ethics panel, which investigates allegations against members of the upper chamber, is made up of 10 of Ford’s fellow senators.
In its amended complaint released Thursday, the committee said Ford “knowingly and willfully altered copies of documents,” including campaign banking records.
The committee said Ford also made false and misleading notations on the documents. The actions “were done with the intent to deceive the committee,” the complaint states.
Ford faces allegations that he used campaign donations for personal expenses, misrepresented expenses as campaign-related, reported incorrect amounts for what he spent, and failed to report numerous expenses, donations and personal loans.
Ford did not respond to a phone message seeking comment Thursday. His attorney, Bill Runyon of Charleston, said Ford never intended to submit the documents to the committee and merely turned them over when asked by panel staff.
“They came to Sen. Ford and said we want your files and we want to get your accounting straight. They took his raw files and saw notes,” Runyon said.
Runyon said in April that the initial accusations against Ford were a result of sloppy bookkeeping by the 64-year-old.
Last month, Runyon said it’s difficult for a “citizen legislator” such as Ford to keep up with the unwieldy process of campaign paperwork.
He reiterated those comments Thursday.
“If this keeps up, you’re not going to have anyone in the state Legislature or even in county government who isn’t a CPA or doesn’t have their own treasurer and staff to keep up with things,” Runyon said.
Ford and Runyon will have the opportunity to appear at an open hearing where committee members ultimately will determine whether Ford has violated ethics law. A date for that hearing has not been set.
The panel could issue several penalties against Ford if it finds any violations, up to and including recommending expulsion. Other possible sanctions are fines or a public reprimand.
If it finds alleged criminal violations, the committee could refer the matter to the S.C. Attorney General’s Office for investigation.
Documents supporting the committee’s allegations against Ford have not been made public.
Ford has served in the Senate since 1993. He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010, on a campaign centered on returning video poker to the state to generate tax revenue.
According to Ford’s latest campaign disclosure, he has $37,200 cash available in his campaign account and owes $18,000 on a loan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Stephen Largen at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.