FLORENCE, S.C. — Former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard said he had trouble asking people to donate money to his political campaign, so he came up with a scheme to give his own money to family members to give to others to donate to his campaign.
That’s illegal, and led to the Florence businessman pleading guilty in March to seven misdemeanor counts, getting five years of probation, but no jail time. In his first interview about the case since his guilty plea, Ard told the Morning News of Florence that he knew his idea was wrong, but didn’t know it was illegal.
“I didn’t know how to do it. I couldn’t ask someone to give me money. I can remember one day going, ‘good Lord, man, I’m going to report no money in the campaign account’ because I don’t have the ability. I don’t know how to ask anyone to contribute to my campaign,” Ard said.
Ard was unknown outside of Florence when he decided to run for lieutenant governor in 2010. He had only recently become interested in politics and his only elected office was Florence County councilman. Ard was a successful businessman, making money on a truck body manufacturing plant, a convenience store and centipede grass farms.
But all that business experience left him unable to ask others for money to back him politically, Ard said.
“I didn’t know how to do it. I mean, I just couldn’t ask someone to give me money, and I was calling not only people that I knew but people that I didn’t know,” Ard said.
Instead, prosecutors said Ard gave out $75,000 of his own money to people who then donated it back to his campaign. Four family members and friends passed out the money to donors, sometimes in envelopes full of $100 bills during secret meetings, authorities said.
Ard also reported $87,500 worth of donations that never existed to make it look like he had more support than he really had, both to chase other candidates out of the race and get influential people to support his campaign, prosecutors said.
After he was elected, Ard used about $10,000 worth of leftover campaign money to buy clothes, electronics such as iPods and video game systems, and a family vacation to Washington, D.C.
Ard, who has a radio show in Florence, apologized to his supporters for letting them down and to the people of South Carolina for embarrassing the lieutenant governor’s office. He said he will never run for office again.
“Politics is better with people like me involved with it – people that have lived where the rubber hits the road, that understand what it takes to get a deal done, to solve a problem,” Ard said. “And I am concerned deeply that we’re turning into something less than that.”