COLUMBIA -- First Lt. Gov. Ken Ard was accused of spending his campaign cash on a family vacation, a pair of iPads, football tickets and new clothes for himself and his wife.
Lt. Gov. Ken Ard's case became a criminal investigation when it was sent to the state grand jury. The next step is for a circuit judge to approve the petition and officially assign it to the state grand jury, where testimony would be taken in secret.The move does not suspend Ard from office. A suspension would not come unless the grand jury indicts him.The state Senate may reconvene on Tuesday for a special one-day session. If Ard resigns, a new lieutenant governor could be installed on that day by a vote of the 46 senators.
Then, his lawyers were accused of misleading ethics investigators.
What if Ard leaves office?
Under the state constitution, Charleston Republican and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell would become the lieutenant governor if Ken Ard steps down or is booted from office. If McConnell, a 30-year senator, passes on the position, one of several other senior senators could be installed by the 46-member chamber to the state's second-in-charge spot. They include: Sens. Ronnie Cromer of Prosperity, John Courson of Columbia, Larry Martin of Pickens and David Thomas of Greenville, all Republicans.
Next, Ard was slammed with the second-highest ethics fine in state history.
On Wednesday, he became the first sitting lieutenant governor to be the subject of a state grand jury investigation.
Ard, a Florence Republican elected in November, said he requested that Attorney General Alan Wilson call for an investigation so that all of the facts can be determined.
The process begins immediately.
"I look forward to continuing to work with the attorney general's office," Ard said in a short statement. He gave no indication whether he would resign or stay in office.
The situation touched off a political frenzy.
Politicos speculated whether Charleston Republican and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell would step up to become lieutenant governor, as the state constitution requires, if Ard resigns or is forced out of office. Some guessed McConnell would pass up the state's second-in-commend job to keep his more powerful Senate seat, and a list of Ard replacements grew.
McConnell said all the talk is premature.
The next step is for a circuit judge to approve the petition and assign it to the state grand jury. In the meantime, Ard will not be suspended from office. A suspension would not come unless the grand jury indicts him. The case, however, is now considered a criminal investigation.
McConnell, who has represented Charleston's District 41 since 1981, said he doesn't know what he would do if Ard leaves office.
"I have not made up my mind on anything other than to discharge the duties of my job as president pro tem of the Senate," McConnell said. "I am not seeking out the office of lieutenant governor."
McConnell said his love for his district and his duty under the constitution are weighing on his mind.
"I am just not sure what I would do at this point," he said.
The Senate is expected to return to session on Tuesday to take up an unrelated matter, but the special one-day session would give the 46 senators a chance to reposition themselves should Ard leave office.
Democrats will continue to pressure Ard to resign. They've called a 10 a.m. press conference in Columbia.
Dick Harpootlian, the party's chairman and a former prosecutor, commended Wilson for taking the action. Now, Harpootlian said it is up to the grand jury to determine whether Ard is guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. The jury can subpoena documents and people, including Ard. Ard can use his Fifth Amendment rights to decline to testify.
"It is a secret proceeding so we won't know," Harpootlian said.
The state Republican Party is not jumping to conclusions, nor is Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
"This is another step in what looks to be a long legal process, and the governor will let that process take its course," Haley's press secretary, Rob Godfrey, said in a statement. "These are serious allegations, but like everyone else, the lieutenant governor deserves his day in court."
It is not clear what evidence led Wilson to send the case to the state grand jury. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel also signed off on the request for investigation. The law bars the officials from discussing the matter.
Although Ard said he asked for an investigation, Wilson's office said that request came only after the attorney general notified Ard's attorney Wednesday that Wilson had planned to take the action. Ard's attorney asked for Wilson to refer the case to SLED. That is the only communication Wilson's office has had with Ard.
"I have reviewed the information with a team of prosecutors in my office, and have concluded that this case is properly within the investigative jurisdiction of the state grand jury," Wilson said in a statement. He had no further comment.
Lt. Gov. Ken Ard was fined $48,400 by the State Ethics Commission in late June for using campaign cash on personal items. His fine, the second-largest in state history behind former Gov. Mark Sanford's, was extra stiff because ethics investigators said Ard's lawyers gave them inaccurate information. Ard also was ordered to pay $12,500 for the investigation and $12,000 to reimburse his campaign.
In all, Ard was charged with 107 ethics violations for breaches, including:
In addition to the use of campaign funds for personal items, Democrats are questioning whether all of the individuals listed as contributors on Ard's campaign-disclosure reports actually put up cash to finance his election bid. S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said the party has turned up three reported campaign contributors who say they never gave Ard any cash.