Ard pressured to step down

Democratic leader says trial will be a 'distraction'
Lt. Gov. Ken Ard has admitted to misusing his funding.

COLUMBIA --- Democrats called Thursday for the immediate resignation of Lt. Gov. Ken Ard as his ethics case heads to a state grand jury, calling on Republicans to stop working on backroom deals to replace him.

Three weeks ago, Ard paid the state Ethics Commission a $48,000 fine after being hit with 107 civil counts of using campaign cash for personal expenses. Authorities say those included a family vacation, iPads, a flat-screen television, clothes, meals and a trip to the SEC championship game last fall. He also had to pay $12,500 to cover the costs of the state ethics investigation and had to reimburse his campaign $12,000.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Alan Wilson referred questions about the ethics investigation to the state grand jury. The developments prompted calls from South Carolina's Democratic leadership for Ard to step down.

The grand jury inquiry will distract Ard from his duties, state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said.

"It's time to give the people of South Carolina a break from this ongoing controversy," Harpootlian said. "Quit. Go back to Florence. Get a lawyer. Deal with your legal problems. But let the state of South Carolina and the people of South Carolina move forward."

Ard "already admitted he did things wrong," Harpootlian said. "The only question now is whether those are criminal or not."

Republicans said Democrats are trying to score political points.

"While Dick Harpootlian spends every waking hour grandstanding for political purposes, our party recognizes the seriousness of these allegations and refuses to politically influence the investigation with Harpootlian-style theatric," said Matt Moore, the state Republican Party's executive director.

There were no signs Thursday that Ard was ready to resign and his spokeswoman and lawyer did not immediately respond to questions.

On Wednesday, Ard said in a statement he would cooperate with the investigation. He also said he had requested that Wilson "refer my case for a full and complete investigation so that all of the facts in this matter can be determined."

But a spokesman for the attorney general's office said Ard's request was for a State Law Enforcement Division investigation and it came only after Ard's lawyer was told the case was heading to the grand jury.

An independent SLED investigation, however, would have delayed the grand jury taking up the case and those investigators would have worked without subpoena power. The grand jury would have SLED investigators using subpoena power as they handled the case.

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