COLUMBIA — South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian says the state has enough evidence that Lt. Gov. Ken Ard broke the law when he spent campaign dollars on personal items to launch a grand jury investigation.
Harpootlian said on a conference call with reporters Friday that Attorney General Alan Wilson needs to conclude his review of Ard and take action against the first-term Republican. Harpootlian also wants the state Republican Party to take action against Ard.
The Richland County solicitor could also bring the matter to the grand jury, Harpootlian said.
At issue is Ard’s use of campaign money on personal items, including a family vacation and football tickets.
Harpootlian also said he has learned that at least three campaign donors listed on Ard’s disclosure reports did not make cash donations, despite being listed as cash contributors on his disclosure forms. The Democratic Party has “20-year-olds” researching the donor list, Harpootlian said. He said the evidence is so obvious that it “jumps off the page.”
Ard’s spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for a comment. Ard has declined making any public statements since he said in late June that he accepts responsibility for any mistakes.
Fifth Circuit Solicitor Daniel Johnson said he is paying close attention to the attorney general's review and has been in communication with Wilson on the matter.
"He is looking into it. I am satisfied with that," Johnson said.
The state’s attorney general’s office is conducting a review of the situation now to see if the State Law Enforcement Division should investigate.
Mark Plowden, communications director for the attorney general, said it would be inappropriate for the office to discuss what material is being considered during an official review. Harpootlian or anyone else with information should contact Wilson's office, Plowden said.
He noted that Harpootlian's job is to play partisan politics.
"Attorney General Wilson does not have that luxury," Plowden said. "He must consider serious legal matters and decide the best course for the state.
"This is not a drive-through window for justice, and we aren't in the business of creating cute sound bites in time for a weekend news story."
Harpootlian, a former prosecutor, said the matter is simple.
Harpootlian said Ard’s comment to a Free Times reporter in Columbia is evidence enough that Ard is guilty of wrongdoing. The lieutenant governor told the alternative weekly paper earlier this year that he was trying to recoup as much of his personal money as possible from his campaign account. An audio recording of the statement has been released.
The state Ethics Commission went on to charge Ard with more than 100 ethics violations for improper use of campaign money and issued him the second largest fine in state history. Ard also spent campaign cash after his November election on gaming equipment, a flat-screen television, among other purchases. The fines took into account inaccurate statements made to ethics investigators.
Harpootlian said the law is clear: No candidate may expend contributions for personal use.
“Ken Ard has admitted expending contributions for personal use,” Harpootlian said.