S.C. senator accused of altering campaign documents

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COLUMBIA — The Sen­ate Ethics Committee on Thurs­­day accused state Sen. Rob­ert Ford of intentionally altering documents as the legislative panel reviewed his campaign records.

The committee added the allegation to its complaint against the 64-year-old Charles­ton Democrat.

The sworn statement accuses Ford of “knowingly and willfully” altering campaign banking records and other documents, and of making “false and misleading descriptive notations” before turning them into the committee. “Such actions were done with the intent to deceive the committee,” read the complaint signed by 10 senators and addressed to Ford.

It gave no specifics. Docu­ments supporting the allegations aren’t public.

Two weeks ago, the committee found probable cause to support allegations that Ford committed violations of state ethics laws over the past four years.

Ford had until Thursday to respond to allegations that he used campaign donations for personal expenses; misrepresented expenses as campaign-related; reported incorrect amounts for what he spent; and didn’t report numerous expenses, donations and personal loans.

Ford said he could not comment. His attorney, William Runyon, said he hadn’t seen the latest allegations, but he believes the notes and alterations were for Ford’s use and not meant to mislead the committee.

The committee asked for Ford’s documents, and Ford merely turned over what he had, Runyon said. “They didn’t even ask him what any of the notes meant,” he said.

Last month, Runyon said the problems stemmed from unintentional bookkeeping errors.

He reiterated those comments Thursday.

“If this keeps up, you’re not going to have anyone in the state Legislature or even in county government who isn’t a CPA or doesn’t have their own treasurer and staff to keep up with things,” Runyon said.

A former car salesman, Ford’s main job is being a senator. The salary is $10,400 a year, though mileage reimbursements and daily pay for meals and lodging during the session push that to more than $20,000. He’s also done campaign consulting work.

Senate rules give Ford 15 days to respond to the amendment.

Under current law, House and Senate ethics committees handle complaints and oversee filings of their own members, while the state Ethics Commission is responsible for all non-legislative campaigns. An ethics reform bill passed by the House last week would change that. It creates a joint House-Senate ethics committee composed of eight legislators and eight people they select.

Runyon said questions over Ford’s filings between July 2009 and last month arose during an administrative review, rather than a complaint.

The rare finding of probable cause followed a preliminary investigation, which the committee conducted in secret. A hearing on the allegations must be held in public.

Options include dismissal, a public reprimand, a $2,000 fine per violation, and expulsion. Any allegations of criminal violations could be forwarded to the attorney general’s office for investigation.

Ford has served in the Senate since 1993. He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010, on a campaign centered on returning video poker to the state to generate tax revenue.

According to Ford’s latest campaign disclosure, he has $37,200 cash available in his campaign account and owes $18,000 on a loan.


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