COLUMBIA — A fellow Charleston Democrat is coming to the aid of Robert Ford, starting a legal defense fund for the longtime state senator as he faces a series of alleged ethics violations.
Rep. Wendell Gilliard said Friday he started the fund a few days ago because Ford needs the financial help and because he’s helped many others through the years.
“I can’t say enough about his story as a civil rights soldier,” Gilliard said. “He’s rich in spirit and rich in giving, and we need to show that in return.”
Ford is a former member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and was arrested dozens of times during the Civil Rights Era.
Gilliard is asking people to send contributions directly to Ford’s attorney, Bill Runyon of Charleston.
“We ask that you make a generous contribution to acquire and help pay for the services rendered by attorney William Runyon,” Gilliard wrote in a recent email seeking contributions. “Every person is entitled to their day in court with the best representation possible.”
Gilliard said Ford needs money because he doesn’t make much as a state lawmaker, and can’t afford a bookkeeper to maintain his campaign records. Ford has been a senator since 1993.
Runyon has said the allegations against Ford are the result of sloppy record keeping by the senator.
On Thursday, the Senate Ethics Committee added to its April complaint against Ford, accusing him of intentionally altering documents in an attempt to deceive the panel.
The Ethics Committee, which investigates allegations against members of the upper chamber, is made up of 10 of Ford’s fellow senators.
Ford also 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.
He did not return a call seeking comment Friday.
Ethics Committee staff did not respond to a request for comment on whether contributions to Runyon on behalf of Ford would have to be reported. Runyon said he wasn’t aware of the defense fund before receiving a call Friday.
“That’s fine,” he said. “I have no direct involvement in that. If the checks show up, they show up.” Runyon said he intends to ask the ethics panel if the contributions would be considered campaign funding.
He said Ford has had defense funds when he’s faced legal issues in the past, including in 1977 when he was suspended from his Charleston City Council seat and charged with forgery.
The moves came after the names of dead people showed up on petitions in an annexation election.
Ford was acquitted, and reinstated to the council and given back pay.
Gilliard claims the committee’s allegations against Ford are backlash to Ford speaking out about issues at South Carolina State University.
“In any other state he would be deemed as a hero,” Gilliard said of Ford’s stands on the school. “I really think this has been triggered because of that.”
Ethics Committee Chairman Luke Rankin, R-Conway, said he could not comment on the allegation.
Reach Stephen Largen at firstname.lastname@example.org.